DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 March) — The peace process between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) is back on track, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced Sunday from Utrecht, The Netherlands, where backchannel talks were held March 10 and 11.
“I am pleased to announce that the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army / National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/ NDF) which broke down weeks ago, are now back on track again,” Dureza said in a five-paragraph statement he posted on his Facebook wall.
“Almost there,” Dureza said when MindaNews checked on the progress of the backchannel talks at 11:17 p.m. Saturday in the Philippines (4:17 p.m. in Utrecht).
Dureza said the unilateral ceasefire declared by both parties last year but terminated in early February “is deemed restored and reinstated but will be made effective only as soon as the respective forces of both sides are duly informed but definitely before the next round of talks in April, 2017.”
The GRP and NDF peace panels at the end of the third round of formal talks on January 25 had scheduled the fourth round of formal peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway on April 2 to 6.
Dureza said the restoration of the unilateral ceasefire is a “prelude to an interim bilateral ceasefire that needs further meetings between the two sides to determine and agree on rules, necessary guidelines and mechanisms.”
He said both parties are expected to “start discussions on the bilateral ceasefire” in the fourth round of talks in April.
Armed clashes intensified during the month-long period without a ceasefire, leading to several deaths and injuries on both sides and displacement of civilians.
The parties had tasked at the end of the first round of formal peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway on August 26 last year, its respective ceasefire committees to “reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral agreement within 60 days” from August 26.
The Joint Statement issued on March 11 said the fifth round of talks will be held in June.
Dureza said the effectivity of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) that Duterte ordered terminated “has been restored to enable the NDF consultants and their staff who were in jail or otherwise constrained, to physically surface and join in the peace work.”
The March 11 Joint Statement also said the government agreed to “release a rearrested consultant, ensure the safety and liberty of all the consultants, as well as undertake the necessary measures, including hte reinstatement of their bail, as the case may be, and other legal remedies to enable their free and unhindered movement.”
NDF consultant Ariel Arbitrario was arrested in a checkpoint in Davao City on February 6, barely 15 hours after Duterte announced in Cagayan de Oro his order to arrest NDF consultants who had earlier been freed temporarily to participate in the peace process.
It also said that the government reiterated its commitment in Rome to “ensure the participation” of four detained consultants in the fourth round of talks and thereafter” and shall also work for the release of 19 political prisoners “based on humanitarian or other grounds” on or before the April talks.
Jorge Madlos, NPA spokesperson, announced on February1 that they were lifting the unilateral ceasefire effective 11:59 p.m. on February 10. President Duterte responded by lifting the unilateral ceasefire effective February 3, following reports four soldiers were killed in Bukidnon and Davao Oriental just hours after Madlos’ announcement on February 1. Duterte on February 4 announced he would end the talks and on February 5 dubbed the CPP-NPA-NDF as a “terrorist group” and NDF chief consultant Jose Ma. Sison, his former Professor in Political Thought, a “terrorist.”
The GRP and NDF completed the third round of formal peace talks in Rome on January 19 to 25 and in a Joint Statement on January 25 announced that their ceasefire committees (CFCs) would meet “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 documents of identification.”
The March 11 Joint Statement said the parties had scheduled the “deposit and safekeeping” of the reconstituted list and pictures of JASIG holders of NDF documents of identification on March 14.
Dureza said Duterte “closely monitored the efforts taken by the negotiators” in Utrecht.
The two-page March 11 Joint Statement was signed by government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III and NDF peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili, and members Hernani Braganza (GRP) and Benito Tiamzon (NDF).
The signing was witnessed by Dureza, Efren Moncupa and Francisco Lara for the GRP; Sison, Wilma Tiamzon and Vicente Ladlad for the NDF; and Elisabeth Slattum for the Royal Norwegian Government, the third party facilitator of the GRP-NDF talks. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)