GRP to finalize draft of ceasefire agreement next week

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Nov) – The government (GRP) peace negotiating panel will finalize its own draft of the ceasefire agreement next week in hope to sign a bilateral document with the National Democratic Front (NDFP) next month.

GRP panel member Angela Librado-Trinidad said in an interview with reporters during the launch of the Mindanao Women’s Peace Table Monday that the panel members are now busy defining what would constitute “hostile acts”, an important provision that will clear out violative acts to the bilateral agreement.

“Actually, ang sabi namin (we said) there are technical issues that have to be worked out, example, both parties have their ceasefire declarations. This will be unified – definitions that will be agreed on, terms we need to agree on. We hope that if these things are ironed out, then we could discuss the bilateral ceasefire,” she said.

Librado-Trinidad said that the panel members will convene this week to discuss the developments that will lead to a common document that will be signed by both panels expectedly on December 10, the International Human Rights Day.

“We are positive that things could work out well. On December 10 or a few days later, a bilateral ceasefire agreement could be signed,” she added.

But in a statement dated November 24 but emailed to media outlets on the 27th, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) rebuked Secretary Silvestre Bello, GRP negotiating panel head, “for baselessly claiming that a bilateral ceasefire may possibly be signed by December 10 when in fact there are no negotiations for such an agreement with the NDFP.”

“Bello is conjuring the illusion that a bilateral ceasefire is already in the works in the hope of drawing away attention from the fact that the GRP, so far, has failed to meet its obligation to release political prisoners en masse through a presidential amnesty proclamation,” said the CPP.

The statement also cited NDFP negotiating panel chief Fidel V. Agcaoili as saying that “the GRP is negotiating with itself” in response to Bello’s claims that drafts of the bilateral ceasefire agreement have been exchanged between the two panels.

The communists said the signing of the bilateral ceasefire agreement before or around December 10 will not likely happen, pending the release of all political prisoners.

“The longer the GRP takes to fulfill its obligation to release all political prisoners, the prospects of such an agreement ever being forged become ever dimmer,” it said.

“The failure of the GRP to release all political prisoners in accordance with the August 21-26 Oslo talks, discourages the revolutionary forces from pursuing negotiations to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” the statement read.

The communists also lambasted the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who they claimed continues to conduct “armed suppression operations” in the countryside.

The CPP demanded the government to end the Oplan Bayanihan “armed suppression operations” and pull out all its forces in the hinterlands.

“If the Duterte regime will continue to turn a deaf ear to the clamor for it to end Oplan Bayanihan, it might just force the hand of the revolutionary forces to defend the rights and welfare of the broad masses within the guerrilla zones and defend the peace talks against its fascist saboteurs in the AFP,” added the CPP.

Librado-Trinidad said that some of the GRP panel members are also going around the country to get insights from several sectors on what would be considered “as hostile acts” to ensure that these definitions will reflect the interest of the stakeholders.

“You have to make sure that these definitions will reflect the interest of all those who would be affected directly and indirectly, so we have to be consulting [them]. And other than that, if we have come out with the definition, you also have to consult the other party whether this is acceptable or not. So this is not just an issue of defining it. It’s actually coming up with an agreement with respect to the more substantial issues,” she said.

Librado-Trinidad emphasized the need to strike a common ceasefire document with the NDFP because “as long as the parties are not bound by an agreement, individual parties could accuse each other of violations and this could not be resolved because there is no agreement yet.”

On the release of the 434 political prisoners, she said that they are working on the release of another batch before the end of the year, most especially those who are in the priority list identified based on humanitarian counts, such as sickly, senior citizens, and women.

“We are working on the release and we understand that the release of the prisoners is an issue of urgency but there are things that we need to work out. We have to make sure that the releases would not be subject to any question – legally and judicially. We are trying our best although probably the best might not be enough at this point in time. We are exerting all our efforts to make the release happen,” she said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)