• Govt insists on bilateral truce with Reds

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    THE government is not keen on declaring a unilateral truce with communist rebels before the resumption of peace talks in the Netherlands next week as President Rodrigo Duterte prefers a bilateral ceasefire agreement, the gov-ernment’s chief negotiator said on Friday.

    Speaking to reporters in Malacañang, government peace panel chief Silvestre Bello 3rd said negotiations would proceed sans the declaration of ceasefire on the part of the Duterte administration.

    “Right now, there is no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtain-ing a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello said during a news conference.

    The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) had announced it would declare a unilateral ceasefire with the gov-ernment “not later than March 31” to pave way for the peace negotiations in Noordwijk, the Netherlands on April 2 to 6.

    Bello said National Democratic Front of the Philippines Chairman Fidel Agcaoili had wanted the CPP and govern-ment to release their unilateral ceasefire declarations on the same day.

    Agcaoili even suggested March 28 as as the date, to coincide with the anniversary of its armed wing, the 4,000 strong New People’s Army (NPA), said Bello.

    “I don’t think they will declare if we do not declare…If they feel that we are not prepared to declare one then I don’t think they will proceed with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire,” the Cabinet official said.

    Marching order

    Bello said the completion of a bilateral agreement was the lone marching order of the President in a meeting with himself and Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza in Davao City.

    “He only had one marching order: ‘Get me a ceasefire agreement,’” he said.

    Bello was confident the government’s refusal to declare ceasefire won’t be a setback in the peace talks, as the ne-gotiation for the bilateral ceasefire would be the first item in the agenda of the Netherlands talks.

    “I think we should concentrate more on this more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” he said.

    Bello said he had anticipated differences with the communists prior to the resumption of peace negotiations, but assured the public that the government peace panel would search for a “just, inclusive, and lasting peace in the country.”

    “We continue to be steadfast in our efforts and resolute on our purpose in putting a closure to the armed conflict. We owe this to our people. Our millennials deserve it,” he said.

    Root causes

    Bello said the issues to be tackled in the fourth round of talks involve socioeconomic reforms that would “address the root causes of the armed conflict” and the bilateral ceasefire deal that would “end the hostilities on the ground.”

    “We expect the discussion in this round of talks to be very, very, very difficult and exacting, but we shall be persis-tent in advancing the cause of peace as inspired by our President’s determination to unite our people,” Bello said.

    “The President has walked an extra mile for peace and with the initiatives he has taken, the table is laid for achiev-ing a just, inclusive and lasting peace in our country. Given this, we hope to enlist the support of everyone espe-cially our friends in media to the peace process,” he added.

    No preconditions

    In February, Duterte withdrew a unilateral ceasefire declaration and scrapped peace talks with the communist re-bels, dismayed by rebel attacks and demands such as freedom for all detained rebels.

    The President had said that he wanted a genuine ceasefire, the release of all prisoners held captive by the rebels, and a stop to the extortion activities of the NPA before resuming talks.

    But Bello clarified there were no preconditions for the resumption of peace negotiations.

    “I don’t think the President has ever imposed that as a condition. He only mentioned this as a possible term in the bilateral ceasefire agreement,” he said.

    In remarks in Malacañang on Thursday, Duterte said he would set aside personal differences and not allow his “egoistic” tendencies to hinder the government’s peace talks with the communists.

    The President said he let peace talks between the administration and the communist group resume because his mandate was “to seek peace for our nation.”

    “The Communist Party of the Philippines had agreed again to talk. They are the ones who now insisted that we re-sume the peace process. I gave in because I pondered earlier, I could not be egoistic,” Duterte said.

    “I am an egoistic person but this [is]not really the kind of thing that I should be applying in my personality – egoistic – because as President, this is my job: to seek peace for our nation,” he added.

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