Gov't, NDFP agree on holiday truce; will resume formal talks by Feb. 2011

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 December) – From December 16 to January 3, 2011 the guns will hopefully be silent, as the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have agreed to a ceasefire in observance of the yuletide season and the New Year.

In a statement dated December 3, Luis Jalandoni, chair of the NDFP peace panel said the agreement was made in an informal meeting with GRP peace panel chair Alexander Padilla on December 1 and 2, in Hong Kong.

Jalandoni said the truce will take effect from 00:01 a.m. of December 16, the start of the traditional simbang gabi among Catholics, up to midnight of January 3.

Also in the meeting were lawyer Pablito Sanidad, a member of the GRP peace panel, Coni Ledesma, a member of the NDFP peace panel and lawyer Rachel Pastores, legal consultant to the peace process.

Jalandoni described the meeting as “fruitful, meaningful and cordial.”

Jalandoni said he and Padilla both expressed willingness to resume the formal peace talks, which they tentatively set on February 19 to 25, 2011 in Oslo, Norway.  He added they also agreed to have preliminary talks tentatively set on January 14 to 18, 2011 also in Oslo.

“The schedules for the formal talks will be confirmed after consultation with the other Panel members of both sides. The tentative dates of the meeting and formal talks will be presented to the Royal Norwegian Government, the Third Party Facilitator of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations through Ambassador Ture Lundh,” Jalandoni said.

A press statement released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, quoted Padilla as having said during a press briefing in Malacanang that it would be “the first of such talks after having been suspended in August 2005.”

He said the ceasefire which will begin on December 16 is “the longest ceasefire period agreed upon in the last 10 years (Padilla and national newspapers and TV stations count the ceasefire at 18 days but the count is actually 19 since it was agreed it would begin from 00:01 a.m. December 16 to 23:59 on January 3).

Padilla added that during the meeting with Jalandoni, the  effectivity of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) was reiterated to develop an “atmosphere of openness for future negotiations.”

Padilla gave Jalandoni a copy of the order lifting the hold departure order (HDO) dated June 29, 1992 against the NDFP official. The order lifting the HDO was issued by Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras III on November 30, 2010.

Padilla further assured his counterpart he has the word of President Aquino that he could freely come to and leave the Philippines for a private family visit.

Jalandoni and his wife arrived at the NAIA airport in Manila on Saturday on board a Cathay Pacific Flight from Hong Kong.

Jalandoni during the meeting with Padilla sought the release of the Morong 43 health workers and other political prisoners and NDFP consultants, like 65-year-old Angelina Ipong, and the withdrawal of false charges against the NDFP panelists and consultants as goodwill and confidence building measures for the resumption of the peace talks.

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Lt. Gen, Ricardo A. David announced the suspension of military operations (SOMO) for the entire duration of the holiday truce against the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

David made the unilateral announcement 5pm yesterday in a press conference in Manila after the GRP) and the NDFP peace panels concluded an agreement to observe the Christmas season truce for a peaceful transition to a new decade.

But in a statement sent to MindaNews, David said the SOMO “will not preclude soldiers to take appropriate actions in self-defense to protect communities from threats.”

The CPP, the leading group inside the NDFP, was founded on December 26, 1968. Its military arm, the NPA, was formed on March 29, 1969 and started out with just 60 fighters and 34 rifles.

By mid-1980s, NPA strength grew to some 25,000 guerrillas scattered across most provinces of the archipelago. According to current military estimates, the number has gone down to roughly 8,000 fighters.

Since the time of the late President Corazon C. Aquino the NDFP has held on-and-off peace talks with the Philippine government. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno with reports from Violeta M. Gloria/MindaNews)