By MACEL INGLES
OSLO — In preparation for the start of the peace talks, I wrote an email to the media office of the Royal Norwegian Foreign Ministry to inform them that I would be covering the talks and asked for an official statement.
A day later, I got a call from the special envoy himself, Ambassador Ture Lundh, that he had sent me an email that the ministry had no written statement on the preliminary talks but he did write a few statements that he said could be quoted in my report.
The friendly approach came unexpectedly, used as I was, to a “closed door, no media policy” of the ministry in previous peace talks.
An email I sent to the Philippine embassy in Oslo was not answered so later that day, I wrote my first story on the peace talks about Norway acknowledging the challenge of having another round of talks but also expressing hope for peace.
From the NDF side, I got an email that they have arrived and asked if I could come to the dinner with the Filipino community that Saturday? Of course, I said yes.
Hoping to get the Filipino community reaction on the peace talks, I took with me my video camera and tripod. However, as a courtesy to the host of the talks, I asked if it was OK to do interviews at the dinner. My request was politely declined but was assured that interviews would be granted to the media at the closing ceremonies on Tuesday, January 18.
With work out of the way, I made myself enjoy the evening and mingle with the panel members.
If the atmosphere that night was any indication, the talks were off to a good start. Everyone seemed determined to have a good time and did not mind letting their hair down.
It was a sight to see Joma Sison singing the night away with Ambassador Elizabeth Buensuceso on karaoke. And a delight on my part to be dancing next to Coni Ledesma and other Filipino guests.
However, chief government negotiator Alexander Padilla resisted all requests for him to sing. Ambassador Ture Lundh, on the other hand, did not mind carrying a tune or two and try some dance steps.
The day after, Sunday, there were no scheduled sessions and panel members were free to do what they wanted or joined sight-seeing trips arranged for them by the ministry.
By Monday, disappointed at not being able to do a human interest story, I sent another email to the ministry requesting permission to shoot video situationers at the session hall (even if they are not in actual sessions) for my video report and informed them that I would make myself available the coming Monday and Tuesday at around 5pm.
Since I did not get any response from the ministry on my request, I went to the hotel anyway at around 5 pm just to have a nice chat with the NDF panel.
It was made clear to me that they cannot discuss what had transpired at the talks but I felt the carefree atmosphere at the night of the dinner was gone. A crisp “All is not going well” was what I got.
In fact, I was told that the government panel had left the hotel. To cool off, perhaps? The NDF panel went to dinner at the hotel restaurant with no government panel member in sight.
Did that mean the formal talks would no longer push through? The possibility was indeed very much in the air. Both sides seemed unwilling to budge with issues that, at that time, I was not privy to. The negotiations at that point took a turn for the worse.
The last day, Tuesday, January 18, was the final chance to break the impasse. The press conference was supposed to be 5 pm but we were told that it would be moved to 6 pm or even later depending on the developments.
Both panels resumed session at 5 pm and all journalists were told to wait at the lounge close to the meeting room and that they would be escorted to the session room as soon as the panel members were ready.
When we were ushered into the room an hour later, it seemed like all was well again. The formal talks are to be held in February, announced the visibly pleased peace envoy.
Statements from both Padilla and Jalandoni thanking the host and reiterating their intentions for the talks followed. Then both chairpersons signed the joint communiqué together with the Norwegian peace envoy and agreed to do the ceremonial shaking of hands for the media.
At that point, everyone seemed just relieved that there would be another round of talks in Oslo. Another story to cover for us in the media, another tough negotiations ahead for the panel and the Norwegian hosts.