THE government and communist rebels on Monday agreed to negotiate an interim ceasefire agreement as peace talks resumed in the Netherlands after a one-day delay over President Rodrigo Duterte’s insistence on a clear bilateral truce.
The chief government negotiator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, welcomed the “openness” of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to craft a joint interim ceasefire during the peace negotiations, in his opening remarks for the fourth round of talks between the government and the NDFP at the Radisson Blue Palace Hotel in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
Such ceasefire, he said would march “in step [with]the discussion of the socioeconomic reforms that will address the root causes of armed conflict,” he said.
“As you will agree with me, the forging of the ceasefire agreement is not about ‘giving in’ or ‘giving up,’ it is about ‘giving all’ for peace,” Bello said.
Chief rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said in a statement the NDFP “believes it is possible at the soonest time to have a bilateral ceasefire agreement.”
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the fourth round of talks would tackle the “heart and soul of the peace process,” the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.
“We shall also work out a more stable bilateral or joint ceasefire agreement,” he added.
Originally due to be held in Oslo, the talks were moved to the western Dutch town of Noordwijk aan Zee, about 70 kilometers from Utrecht where several rebel leaders live in exile.
The founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, who lives in Utrecht, is recovering from a bout of ill health.
“The negotiations are necessary to address the roots of the armed conflict and to agree on a social economic political and constitutional reform in order to lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” he told reporters.
The conflict has left some 30,000 people dead, according to the army. But the hope is now to reach a peace deal by the end of 2017.
The conflict erupted in 1968 in the impoverished country and peace negotiations have been on and off for about 30 years. They were kick-started again by President Duterte after he took office last June.
Delayed by a day
On Monday afternoon, Duterte said the opening of the talks was delayed because of a number of conditions he had set.
Duterte himself called the government panel in the Netherlands and ordered negotiators to secure a bilateral ceasefire with the CPP, its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA), and political arm NDFP.
The conditions were: clear parameters for the ceasefire; a stop to NPA extortion activities; the release of all NPA prisoners; and non-recognition of any territorial claim made by the rebels.
Speaking during the investiture ceremony of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines in Malacañang, Duterte said the country was facing many problems, including the negotiations with communist rebels.
“We are facing so many fronts. We are facing the NPAs. We are having talks in the Netherlands. They have not made any progress because I have some conditions to impose before we go back to [the negotiating table],” the President said.
“Whose fault is it? We did it, but they ruined the agreement,” he added, referring to the two sides’ unilateral ceasefire declarations that were withdrawn in February following violent clashes between the military and the NPA. Duterte also refused to meet the CPP’s demand to release all communist rebels in detention.
If peace talks fail, Duterte stressed that he would “not hesitate to use the full power of the state.”
“I will utilize the air assets. Before it was not really a popular, well, choice, option… But this time, if we don’t resolve our differences, I will [use it],” he said.