DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 July) – The first round of formal peace talks between government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) will proceed as scheduled on August 20 to 27 even as President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday lifted his five-day unilateral ceasefire, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said.
“Let’s wait and see. But so far, as of the moment, there is no supervening factor that will affect the upcoming talks in Oslo on August 20,” Dureza told MindaNews an hour after Duterte lifted the ceasefire on Saturday.
For Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, the lifting of the government’s unilateral ceasefire is “unfortunate” and he hopes the talks will push through on August 20.
He called on both government (GPH) and the NDF “to thresh things out on the Davao del Norte incident and the ceasefire issues in the scheduled talks. More than ever, let us pursue earnestly the road to a just and lasting peace that our country and people have long waited for.”
Pastor Dann Pantoja of the Peacebuilders’ Community, looks at the lifting of the ceasefire as “a missed opportunity” for both parties “to start anew in their peace talks based on good faith and mutual trust.’
He said it can also be a setback to the peace process.
Pantoja noted that the ceasefire was “an expression of an ‘all-out-good-faith’ and could have been reciprocated with an equal expression of good faith by the NDFP. But the NDFP seemed to have chosen the technical preconditions.”
Jeremy Simons, a peace and reconciliation advocate, said there is a limit to Duterte’s political capital with both the left and the military “to move the peace process forward on the ground where long time insurgency and counter insurgency dynamics prevail, especially lacking independent monitoring like a Bantay Ceasefire mechanism.”
“Also, there is a general misunderstanding of how fractured the leadership of ground level NPA commanders is, especially in Lumad communities where local tribal dynamics prevail,” Simons added.
“This is a challenge that all peace processes have to face. This is not insurmountable,” Kaloy Manlupig of Balay Mindanaw said, adding “successful peace processes have shown us that the search for common ground is not that easy, but not impossible to achieve.”
“There is hope,” he said.
“In peace processes, it is not about brinkmanship. The one who blinks is considered a dove,” Manlupig said.
“Please give us time”
NDF Consultant Jose Ma. Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Phlippines (CPP) told ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) in a telephone interview that there was an announcement earlier that the revolutionary movement would announce a ceasefire at 8 p.m. “Itong 8 p.m. sa Pilipinas, maglalabas ng ceasefire order” (at 8 p.m. in the Philippines, they will come out with a ceasefire order).
Duterte’s deadline was at 5 p.m.
“Masyado namang volatile ang Presidente na bagong halal,” Sison told ANC adding that adding Duterte showed a “lack of prudence in something as sensitive and delicate as peace negotiations between two armed fighting sides.”
Before Duterte’s 5 p.m. deadline lapsed, GPH peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III, told MindaNews that NDF spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili sent him a message to “please give us time to finish our investigation of the incident as reported by concerned NPA command.”
“The CPP will reciprocate the President’s ceasefire declaration,” Agcaoili said.
Agcaoili did not say in his message to Bello that they will reciprocate by 8 p.m. on Saturday.
The investigations, however, have apparently been finished, as statements issued by Aris Francisco, spokesperson of the Comval North Davao South Agusan Subregional Command of the NPA on July 29 and Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesperson of the NPA-Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command (NPA-SMROC) on July 30 which found the AFP violated Duterte’s ceasefire.
Duterte on July 28 gave the NDF until midnight to explain why the ambush in Kapalong, Davao del Norte happened and on July 29 gave it until 5 p.m. on July 30 to reciprocate the ceasefire or he will lift his July 25 order declaring a unilateral ceasefire.
NPA says AFP violated
Francisco’s statement, titled “Two-faced AFP violated own ceasefire, is ambushed in Davao del Norte,” owned up the July 27 ambush.
“The ambush was in adherence to the directive by the NPA National Operations Command for Red fighters to maintain on alert status and on active defense mode in response to” Duterte’s ceasefire declaration.
He said the AFP “deceived” Duterte, its commander-in-chief, by saying that the NPA violated the unilateral ceasefire when it waylaid the Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP) troops who were returning to their detachment in Sitio Patil, Barangay Gupitan.
“Nothing can be so farther from the truth,” Francisco said, claiming the AFP and the paramilitary
Alamara “ignored the ceasefire declaration of their Commander In Chief and again took off for combat operation from their detachment in Brgy. Patil on July 26” which he said was “in direct violation” to Duterte’s order.
“Spurious unilateral ceasefire”
Sanchez, on the other hand, e-mailed a statement, titled “GRP ceasefire non-existent in Southern Mindanao” to the CPP Information Bureau and media outlets at 5:04 p.m. on July 30, or four minutes after Duterte’s deadline lapsed.
“While the NPA-SMROC is ready, willing and able to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire in accordance to the parameters, guidelines and rules to be set by the national leadership of the NPA, CPP, and NDFP, it cannot be harangued to reciprocate a unilateral ceasefire order that is overtly mocked by the AFP hierarchy and its ground troops and paramilitary forces,” Sanchez said.
He cited the “active defense mode” they adopted to welcome Duterte’s ceasefire but maintained “it cannot surrender its military initiative and diminish the authority of the People’s Democratic Government by placing in jeopardy the lives of the Red Army and the civilian masses in the face of relentless attacks by the fascist enemies of the people.”
“The NPA-SMROC urges the current GPH Commander-In-Chief to subject its own troops to a scrutiny of its own operations, deployment, and conduct nationwide to enable the aforesaid unilateral ceasefire order to become effective. Otherwise, it cannot burden the NPA to reciprocate what is turning out to be a spurious unilateral ceasefire,” Sanchez added.
Reacting to Francisco’s July 29 statement, the 10th Infantry Division, in a statement e-mailed to outlets at 2:45 p.m. on July 30 called the NPA’s allegations “malicious and unfounded.”
On the NPA’s claim that the AFP twisted the facts by leaving out the information that the troops were engaged in combat operations and not in “civilian” activities, Capt. Rhyan Batchar, Chief of the Division Public Affairs Office, said “nowhere in our press statement or Facebook post did we claim that our troops are in ‘civilian’ activities.”
He said their report stated hat the CAAs “who were already several days out of their camp on security patrol when the ceasefire was declared, were on their way back to their patrol base in compliance to the President’s declaration of ceasefire when ambushed by elements of the NPA.”
Batchar said the NPA’s allegation that the CAAs took off for combat operation from their detachment in Barangay Patil on July 26 “is completely false as the ambush site is two to three days walk from the CAA patrol base in Sitio Patil, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte and the ambush happened at about 6:45 in the morning of July 27.”
He said the CAAs were “on their way back to their patrol base while crossing a river in Sitio Kamunoan, Barangay Gupitan” when ambushed by around 30 NPAs under Guerilla Front 34. The NPAs hit the CAAs with IED (improvised explosive device) and gunfire which resulted to almost an hour of firefight.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)