Defense chief warms to talks with rebels


MANILA, July 30 – Softening from his previous hard line stand for communist rebels to first lay down their weapons before resumption of the stalled negotiations, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin said the government is ready to resume the peace talks without precondition. “No precondition. Come down and talk, let’s talk,” Gazmin told the Philippines News Agency in an interview.

Displaying a sense of humility, Gazmin admitted that he indeed imposed a precondition for New People’s Army (NPA) rebels to first surrender their firearms before the resumption of the peace talks.

Medyo hard line yung dating ko noon because I was thinking along the line of militaristic approach. But then I later realized that I am now the alter-ego of the President (Benigno C. Aquino III),” Gazmin said in English and Pilipino.

Gazmin, a retired lieutenant general and former commanding general of the Philippine Army, vowed that whatever is the policy of the President the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), he will follow along that line.

“We will readjust, we will realign our focus towards this direction,” he said, adding that “for those who are against the government right now, it will be more appreciated we get the truth of what we started before if we start to talk and thresh out the problems and come up with solutions to be able to finish the discussion peacefully.”

Negotiations between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army and National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) collapsed in 2005 after the United States and European Union (EU) tagged the NPA as a terrorist group.

However, during the period, backdoor negotiations continued with both sides hope to reopen formal peace talks.

Gazmin said that for the sake of peace and the Filipino people, he backed off his hard line stance and opted for a resumption of the stalled negotiations without precondition.

Asked if he is calling for a ceasefire, Gazmin said: “Yes, definitely!”

“I hope they (CPP/NPA/NDF) will. We hope they will be so we can start all over again,” Gazmin said.

At the same time, Gazmin repeated of what President Aquino said during Aquino's State of the Nation Address last Monday for the communist rebels “to offer concrete solutions and not criticisms all the time.”

The 65-year old defense chief said that the government has offered the rebels to “sit down and let us talk. Ang laking offer ng boyerno yan (It’s a big offer from the government).”

“We just sit down and talk” and find out “where did we go wrong?” he stressed.

“That’s what the President wants. If that will solve the security problems of the Philippines,” Gazmin said.

“We will try to explore all options if only to accomplish or to achieve peace without necessarily going beyond or violating the Constitution,” Gazmin said.

He said that if the insurgency problem will be solved, the country will progress as investments both domestic and foreign will increase.

“There will be investors coming in. People will not be afraid to invest, local and foreign. If there is security, development will follow,” he said. (PNA)

Asia, ConflictBen Cal