Bello: peace talks to continue despite attacks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 March) – The next rounds of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines will push through despite recent attacks reportedly staged by the New People’s Army, Labor Secretary and government peace panel chair Silvestre H. Bello III said.

On March 8, NPA rebels staged an ambush in Bansalan, Davao del Sur killing four police officers.

On Monday, a newly-acquired passenger bus on its second day of plying the Marbel-Tacurong-Davao route was burned by suspected communist rebels in Makilala, North Cotabato. The NPA is yet to issue a statement on the incident.

In a statement issued by the office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) on Tuesday, Bello said their counterparts from the NDFP had been informed already about the Makilala attack and they vowed to look into it.

Bello urged the combatants “to observe” restraint.

“We remain firm and confident that we can still proceed according to the agreement we just signed in Utrecht to swiftly reinstate our respective unilateral ceasefires while we work on the terms of an interim bilateral ceasefire agreement,” he said.

In another statement issued on Monday evening, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza cited the Joint GRP-NDFP statement that “the restoration of unilateral ceasefire that has been announced is not yet effective as of today as there is still a need to allow the government and the communist leaders to inform their respective ground forces accordingly.”

“Except for the government forces where there is a tight command and control structure in place and directives from higher headquarters are downloaded expeditiously, the same is not true with the NPAs, for obvious reasons,” he said.

He added the effectivity date of the unilateral ceasefire will take place “as soon as both sides agree to a date specific” that should happen before the start of the next round of peace negotiation set for the first week of next month.

During the back channel talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands last week, Dureza said he raised with the NDFP peace panel the urgency of an early effectivity announcement of ceasefire, citing his previous experience in negotiating with rebel groups such as the Bangsamoro that there may be some factions that would disrupt the peace talks “or merely as an attempt of projection of eminence by some of their elements.”

He said some people may question the peace talks with the communists due to the alleged attacks but said public acceptance “is critical, given the indispensable need of overall stakeholders’ support to ensure success of our peace efforts.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)