Formal peace talks with Reds likely to resume in January – Bello

Marje Pelayo   •   December 13, 2019   •   631

MANILA, Philippines — The government intends to resume the formal peace talks with the communist group come January next year.

According to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III who serves as the government’s chief negotiator, the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would probably resume on the second or third week of January.

NDFP is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founded by activist Jose Maria ‘Joma’ Sison who is now in exile in the Netherlands.

Over the weekend, Bello was able to talk to Sison who responded favorably to President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer for both parties to return to the negotiating table.

In line with this, Bello said the CPP may declare a truce on December 20 or 21.

Though Sison agreed to the resumption of the peace talks, he wants it done on a neutral venue.

In a recent interview, Sison said he could meet President Duterte in person but he wanted to have legal and political guarantees that he’d still be protected under the provisions of the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Though the meet-up is a remote possibility, Sison said, it may not happen in the Philippines but “maybe in a nearby country.”

NDF peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili passes away

Robie de Guzman   •   July 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Fidel Agcaoili, the chairperson of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace negotiating panel has passed away at the age of 75.

In a statement, the NDFP said Agcaoili died on Thursday in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

He suffered from a pulmonary arterial rupture which caused massive internal bleeding. The NDFP, however, clarified that his demise was not related to coronavirus disease.

His remains will be flown to the Philippines according to the wish of his family, the group added.

DOLE seeks P2.5 billion more cash aid for OFWs displaced by pandemic

Robie de Guzman   •   July 6, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is seeking to get additional budget for its cash assistance program for the growing number of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

DOLE said that as of July 4, its overseas offices and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) have recorded a total of 551,606 aid applications from land-based and sea-based workers who are either still in host countries or have already returned to the Philippines.

“The fund released to us is fast depleting. So far, our offices approved the requests of 224,756 OFWs, 128,348 of whom are still locked down or stranded in their countries of work,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.

The agency had been given P2.5 billion in two tranches to finance its Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program, a one-time cash aid of $200 or P10,000 to help Filipino workers displaced by the pandemic. The budget for the program came from the emergency fund under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Of the 250,000 expected beneficiaries of the program, around 188,473 have already received the cash aid from DOLE as of July 4 amounting to some P1.927 billion, DOLE said.

Of those who have received the aid, 105,756 are on-site while the remaining beneficiaries have returned to the country, it added.

With additional funding, AKAP will be able to extend emergency assistance to close to half a million OFWs, Bello said.

Bello hopes that President Rodrigo Duterte will grant their request to extend help to more OFWs in need.

DOLE forms task force to speed up OFW processing, return to homes

Robie de Guzman   •   May 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced that it has formed task force groups to expedite the return of quarantined overseas Filipino workers (OFW) to their respective homes.

In a statement issued Wednesday, DOLE said the task groups, dubbed as “balik-probinsiya” and “balik-abroad,” will help fast track the movement of OFWs from various quarantine facilities to their respective home destinations, as well as facilitate the speedy processing of outbound workers.

The move follows President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to immediately send home all OFWs who tested negative for COVID-19 conducted by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Red Cross.

DOLE said about 24,000 OFWs have been kept in government-designated quarantine facilities since their return to the country. Most workers had complained of the slow release of their results and clearances after weeks and even months of quarantine and tests.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, however, said the government did not intend to inconvenience the returning OFWs with their prolonged quarantine and delayed test results.

“DOLE and OWWA simply had no control over the testing and issuance of clearances,” he said.

Bello said he had ordered the designation of additional personnel from its regional and attached agencies to beef up the manpower requirement of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in ensuring the smooth land and air transport, and monitoring of OFWs from various quarantine facilities to their respective home destinations.

In an administrative order, Bello also formed a separate task group to ease the processing of outbound land and sea-based workers whose country of destination has lifted the restrictions on the employment of foreign workers.

“We are doing this so as we don’t lose the jobs for our OFWs, while at the same time we help facilitate the quick homecoming and be of assistance to our returning workers,” the labor chief said.

Aside from facilitating the processing of inbound and outbound OFWs, the ‘hatid-probinsya’ and ‘balik-abroad’ task groups will serve as monitoring offices for onsite OFWs and those seeking repatriation, DOLE said.

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