NDF open to bilateral truce before release of political prisoners

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 December) — Saying it is the “best gift the government and the NDF can give to the Filipino people this holiday season,” Labor Secretary and government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III welcomed the statement of Luis Jalandoni indicating the readiness of the National Democratic Front to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement even before the release of the political prisoners.

Jalandoni served as NDF peace panel chair until his resignation in early October this year. He was replaced by Fidel Agcaoili.

Bello, in a statement released Monday by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said: “The willingness of the NDF to sign the bilateral ceasefire agreement is indeed a welcome development as this bodes well to a positive atmosphere when we meet again for the third round of talks in January.

“A bilateral ceasefire would not only benefit the combatants but the people who are caught in the crossfire of this armed conflict.”

“The GRP panel further recognizes the NDF’s efforts to work with us to attain peace. Its declaration of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration in August is unprecedented and historic,” he said.

“Agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire is another milestone in the peace process. Both panels have never set preconditions since the start of the negotiations under this administration,” he added.

The NDF last month demanded that political prisoners must be released first before the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

“The longer the GRP takes to fulfill its obligation to release all political prisoners, the prospects of such an agreement ever being forged become ever dimmer,” said the Communist Party of the Philippines statement dated November 24 but released to the media on November 27.

But last December 6, a statement from OPAPP quoted President Rodrigo Duterte as saying there will be no substantial release of political prisoners, pending the signing of the ceasefire agreement.

“Produce to me a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement and I will release them within 48 hours. You can take my word for it,” Duterte said.

Two days after, the President reiterated his position on the release of political prisoners.

“I have conceded to the communists too much too soon. As yet, I have to see a substantive progress of the talks. They are asking for 130 detainees to be released, all NPAs (all members of the New People’s Army). Sorry, I cannot do that. I cannot do it because uubusin nila ang baraha ko” (I will lose all my cards), Duterte told reporters at the groundbreaking rites for the Bicol International Airport terminal in Legaspi City on Thursday last week.

Despite Duterte’s pronouncements Bello assured the administration remains committed to work for the release of a substantial number of political prisoners.

“Despite the challenges, we continue to struggle to make peace happen for the country and the Filipino people,” he said.

He hopes the truce will end the hostilities and lead to just and lasting peace.

In a statement dated December 4, the CPP said the military had continued to undertake armed actions against the New People’s Army despite the unilateral ceasefire declarations issued by the government and the NDF.

“The CPP is utterly dismayed at the failure of GRP President Rodrigo Duterte to rein in the war dogs of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines. It is quite apparent that the order made by Duterte last August as commander-in-chief to the AFP to ‘be friendly with the revolutionary government’ and with the CPP-NPA is an empty one considering that not a single area command of the AFP respected nor implemented this policy. On the contrary, the AFP continues to regard the CPP-NPA with extreme hostility,” the statement said.

“The AFP deceptively describes their combat and psychological operations as ‘peace and development’, ‘civil-military operations’, ‘medical missions’, ‘visitations’, ‘community outreach’, ‘anti-drug campaign’ and so on. They try to fool the people by claiming their fully-armed combatants are engaged in “non-combat operations,” it said.

It added that if the AFP continued with its deployment in guerrilla zones, the NPA would be forced to take defensive action and the CPP would have to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declaration. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)