CPP willing to return to nego table; vows to have 6 NPA captives freed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 19 Feb) — The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has called on President Rodrigo Duterte to heed the clamor of various groups to reconsider his decision terminating the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) as it expressed willingness to proceed with the February 22 to 27 negotiations in The Netherlands, to work on a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

As a “positive gesture,” the CPP called on NPA units to “expedite the release” of four soldiers and two paramilitary elements it captured in Alegria in Surigao del Norte, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Talakag in Bukidnon and Lupon in Davao Oriental “before or during” the Netherlands talks if the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) withdraws from the area where the captives will be freed.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the CPP urged Duterte not to waste the gains of the first three rounds of formal peace negotiations.

“The Party and the New People’s Army (NPA) reiterate their support for efforts to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement. The revolutionary forces are encouraged by the previous statements of GRP President Duterte that all political prisoners will be released within 48 hours once the bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed,” it said.

It added that the government can help facilitate the travel of the NDF ceasefire committee members and consultants. The NDF represents the CPP and NPA in the peace negotiations with the government (GRP).

The last round of formal talks was held in Rome on January 19 to 25. At the end of the talks, the parties agreed, among others, to discuss the bilateral ceasefire agreement in Utrecht, The Netherlands on February 22 to 27 and the fourth round of formal peace talks in Oslo in early April.

A week after the third round, however, the NPA’s spokesperson, Jorge Madlos, announced on February 1 the termination of its unilateral ceasefire effective 11:59 p.m. on February 10. In response, President Duterte announced on February 3 the termination of the government’s  unilateral ceasefire “effective tonight;” called off the peace talks on February 4 and on February 5 tagged NDF chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison, his professor in Political Thought in college, as a “terrorist,” and the CPP-NPA-NDF as a “terrorist” organization.  He also ordered the arrest of political prisoners who were temporarily released in August  to participate in the talks.

The CPP statement added that they are anticipating that the talks on the bilateral ceasefire “will be most difficult” but they will work with their counterparts in government to forge a bilateral document “that will be mutually acceptable and enforceable.”

“The revolutionary forces are bound by principle to assert the withdrawal of the AFP’s operating troops from areas under the sway of the revolutionary government,” it said.

Duterte visited the Eastern Mindanao Command on Thursday during the wake of soldiers slain by the NPA in Calinan district a day earlier but when asked by a reporter on the resumption of the peace negotiations, Duterte left without answering the question.

The two soldiers were killed while 15 others were injured in a landmine explosion allegedly perpetrated by the NPA in Calinan district this city on February 16. Three NPA guerrillas were killed on the same day, two in Calinan and one in Paquibato.  (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews with reports)