THE Philippine government and communist rebels agreed to return to the formal negotiating table on Sunday, about a month after President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped peace talks over bloody clashes between the military and rebel forces.
The agreement was reached after the members of the peace panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) met for back-channel talks on March 10 to 11 in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
“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,” Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said in a statement.
Dureza said both parties also committed to reinstate unilateral ceasefire declarations within a month or before the fourth round of talks scheduled in the first week of April.
“At the same time, a unilateral ceasefire that was also earlier terminated 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,” Dureza said.
“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 added.
In the two-page joint statement, the parties announced a consensus on six points, especially on the decision to meet again for formal negotiations.
“The Parties shall continue the formal peace talks and reiterate their reaffirming of all bilateral agreements and statements made in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, including the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” the joint statement read.
The statement was signed by negotiators Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd and Hernani Braganza on the part of the government, and Fidel Agcaoili and Benito Tiamzon on the part of the NDF. Dureza and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison were also among the signatories.
Aside from reinstating the indefinite unilateral ceasefire declarations, Dureza said the agreement on safety and immunity guarantees was also restored.
“The effectivity of the agreement on safety and immunity guarantees (JASIG) that was also ordered terminated by President 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,” he said.
Dureza said both parties agreed to meet for the scheduled fourth round of peace negotiations on April 2 to 6 in Oslo, Norway.
“President Duterte himself closely monitored the efforts taken by the negotiators while in Utrecht in the Netherlands in bringing about an early breakthrough in the talks with the facilitation by the Royal Norwegian Government,” Dureza said.
Last month, the President withdrew a unilateral ceasefire declaration and scrapped peace talks with the communists, dismayed by rebel attacks and demands such as freedom for all detained rebels.
After terminating the peace talks, Duterte called the 4,000-strong communist rebels terrorists and ordered the arrest of NDF consultants who were temporarily freed for the peace talks in Oslo, Norway and Rome, Italy.
Duterte wanted a bilateral ceasefire agreement that would put in place common rules of engagement for the military and the communist group’s armed wing, the NPA.
But the NDF demanded the release of around 400 detained rebels before agreeing to sign such a deal. In response, Duterte said he would release some rebel prisoners only after the signing of a bilateral ceasefire deal.
The communist insurgency began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.
Malacañang welcomed the development.
“We remain hopeful that the leadership of the CPP/NPA/NDF can rein in its forces on the ground in reciprocating the efforts of the Duterte administration to move the peace process forward,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
“Peace-building, after all, is not the exclusive responsibility of the government. The burden is also shared by those who claim to speak for the underserved, he added.
WITH AL JACINTO AND AFP