Sans truce, expect NPA attacks even as peace process moves on — Sec. Bello

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 March) – Expect the New People’s Army to launch attacks even while the peace process is ongoing because the rebels want to “negotiate from a position of strength,” Labor Secretary and concurrent of the government panel in talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Silvestre Belllo III said Friday.

Bello said militant groups will also engage in propaganda for the same reason.

He said this understandable because “we are in a state of armed conflict”.

“Syempre we are in a negotiation. When you negotiate, you negotiate from the position of strength. Meron silang lakas na dapat sagutin,” Bello said in a press conference in Malacanang.

“Incidents like that should be expected. Unless unilateral ceasefire is declared by them, we should expect incidences like that to happen, even if talks are ongoing,” he added.

During the March 10 to 11 back channel talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the GRP and the NDF released a joint statement that unilateral ceasefires will take effect before the resumption of the fourth round of the peace negotiations set on April 2 to 6 in that country.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said on March 26 that it would declare a unilateral ceasefire not later than March 31. But neither party has declared a truce as of Friday afternoon.

Bello said the NPA was not inclined to declare a unilateral ceasefire if the government would not issue its own declaration.

“I don’t think they will declare if we will not declare because, in fairness, the chairman of the NDFP panel (Fidel Agcaoili) has been asking me that we should jointly declare a unilateral ceasefire. But if they feel that we are not prepared to declare one, then I don’t think they will proceed with the declaration of the unilateral ceasefire,” he said.

He added GRP’s ceasefire declaration was still “under study.”

The Joint GRP-NDFP statement said the GRP will work for the release of 19 elderly and sick political prisoners and four NDFP consultants.

Bello announced that one NDFP consultant, Ariel Arbitrario, who was arrested last month in Davao City hours after Duterte tagged as “terrorists” and ordered the arrest of those who had earlier been freed to participate in the peace talks, was released on Tuesday from detention at Compostela Valley Provincial Jail.

Arbitrario left on Thursday night for the Netherlands.

Bello explained that not all of the political prisoners could be released because there is a judicial process that is already beyond the jurisdiction of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“You have to realize that the power of the President is not as omnipotent. Mahabang proseso yan (It’s a long process),” he said.

But Bello added the non-release will not affect the peace negotiations, as it is only a confidence-building measure, not a precondition for the two parties to proceed with the talks.

During the fourth round of talks, the panels will discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (CASER), which is the heart and soul of the peace negotiation, and the bilateral ceasefire agreement.

CASER contains the most contentious issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy.

“If we can achieve that, we can almost say that we have achieved peace,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)