Fight and talk: GRP-NDF to meet on bilateral ceasefire on Feb. 22 to 27

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 February) — Despite the termination of their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations,  the government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels will proceed with the negotiations on a bilateral ceasefire agreement on Febuary 22 to 27 in the Netherlands and the fourth round of formal peace talks on April 2 to 6 in Oslo, Norway, government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III said.

“We will proceed as scheduled,” Bello told MindaNews in a telephone interview  Friday night.

Government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III (extreme right) and National Democratic Front peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili (third from left) sign the Joint Statement at the end of the third round of formal peace negotiations in Rome on January 25, 2017. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

NDF peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili on February 1 formally notified Bello of the decision of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) to terminate the unilateral ceasefire it declared on August 28 by 11:59 p.m. of  February 10 but said this move does not mean the termination of the peace negotiations.

Agcaoili reminded Bello that both of them have had the experience of “talking while fighting,” especially during the time of President Fidel Ramos when 12 major agreements, including the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)” were signed even without a ceasefire.

Bilateral ceasefire

The panels had agreed in a joint statement at the end of the third round of formal peace talks in Rome on January 25 that their ceasefire committees (CFCs) will “meet again during the period on February 22-27, 2017 in The Netherlands simultaneous to the opening of the bank safety deposit box account for safekeeping of the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) documents of identification.”

Bello said they hope the CFCs can come up with a bilateral ceasefire agreement by then.

The government and National Democratic Front peace panels view a presentation on the seven binding principles of the bilateral ceasefire during the third round for formal peace talks in Rome. The ceasefire committees will meet on February 22 to 27 in the Netherlands to work on a bilateral ceasefire agreement. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

At the third round of formal peace talks in Rome on January 19 to 25, the NDF ceasefire committee formally acknowledged receiving the GRP CFC draft “Agreement on an Interim Bilateral Cessation of Hostilities Between the GRP and the NDFP” and said it would “seriously study the proposal, submit comments and ma provide its own updated version of its proposed draft agreement for an interim bilateral ceasefire.”

Agcaoili also handed a letter addressed to Bello formally protesting the military operations in Makilala, North Cotabato, as a violation of the ceasefire.

At the end of the first round of formal peace talks on August 26,  the two parties agreed that their ceasefire committees would “reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral agreement within 60 days.”

No bilateral ceasefire has been forged.

On February 1, NPA spokesperon Jorge Madlos announced the termination of its unilateral ceasefire by 11:59 p.m. of February 10, citing two reasons: that the government “has not complied with its obligation to amnesty and release all political prisoners” as promised and that the government has “treacherously taken advantage of the unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire to encroach on the territory of the people’s democratic government,” claiming the AFP had occupied at least 500 villages nationwide “which are within the authority of the revolutionary government.”

On February 3, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he was ending the unilateral ceasefire that evening, citing “unreasonable demands” of the communist rebels.

He said he lost “so many soldiers in just 48 hours” that “to continue with a ceasefire does not or will not produce anything.”

“Therefore I’m asking the soldiers, Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight. I am sorry but that is how it is,” Duterte said. (See other story)

No ceasefire but continue talking

Bayan Muna Rep.Carlos Isagani Zarate vice-chair of the Congress Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity said the absence of ceasefire should not mean an end to the talks.

He called on the two parties to focus on the crafting of an agreement on socio-economic reforms which he said is “the crux and the most crucial part of the peace process,” and to continue tackling the other substantive agenda on political and constitutional reforms and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces, which he said “can continue even in the absence of a ceasefire, as proven during the time of former Pres. Fidel Ramos.”

“We call on both the GRP and NDFP to proceed with the February 22 scheduled meeting in Utrecht, Netherlands, to discuss the issue of ceasefire and the release of political detainees, particularly the sickly and the elderly,” Zarate said, adding the absence of ceasefire “should not be taken as signal the agents of the state for a renewed violation of human rights.”

In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it is “regretful that what was a promising start to achieving peace has ended in the eruption of violence which emanated from the other party.”

“We denounce the CPP-NPA’s continued lawless activities that include extortion, abduction, and attacks on government forces that have resulted in the needless deaths of our soldiers, and the harassment of innocent civilians,” Lorenzana said, adding he has instructed the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Chief of Staff “to place our troops on high alert and to continue their protection of the communities under their care, wherever they are.”

Lorenzana said they are “still hopeful that there is a chance that peace will eventually prevail.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)