THE government’s peace negotiator with communist rebels on Saturday said he saw no problem with a “talk-and-fight” approach to peace talks, as long the Duterte administration would be able to secure a final peace agreement.
“Talk-and-fight mode, that’s okay with us because that’s the situation before. We are talking because there’s a dispute between the government and their group,” Bello told government-run radio station dzRB.
“So what’s important is, we try to talk, hopefully to stop the fighting and permanently,” he added.
This came after National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) senior political adviser Luis Jalandoni expressed willingness to proceed with peace talks with the Duterte administration, even if both sides have lifted their respective ceasefire declarations.
Jalandoni, in a statement, said “communist rebels can fight government forces while talking peace at the same time.”
Bello shared the view and stressed that peace in Mindanao could be achieved with “mutual trust and confidence” between the two parties.
He said the peace talks would resume on February 22 in the Netherlands, and both sides would work to come up with a bilateral ceasefire agreement that would clearly spell out parameters and definitions of terms.
Both sides have claimed ceasefire violations but it wasn’t clear what constituted a violation, Bello noted.
NDFP, NPA ‘disconnect’
Malacañang on Saturday said it was confident peace talks between the government and communist rebels would continue despite the lifting of the unilateral ceasefire by both sides.
In a statement, however, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella pointed to an apparent disconnect between the leaders of the NDFP, the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) political wing, and its armed group, the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Some progress had already been made during the third round of peace talks in Rome, but apparently there is some disconnect between dissident leaders negotiating at the table and their forces on the ground. It would be deeply regrettable that the otherwise positive developments now might have to be set aside,” Abella said.
“Despite the untenable circumstances on the ground, the peace talks have not yet been scuttled. The road to peace is not an easy journey,” he added.
In January, NDFP peace negotiators and the government peace panel ended their third round of peace talks in Rome without a bilateral ceasefire agreement, but both sides said their separate unilateral ceasefire declarations would remain.
The NPA, however, announced on Wednesday the termination of its unilateral ceasefire effective February 10, citing President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to release some 400 detained rebels.
Duterte on Friday refused to give in to the rebels’ demand and lifted the ceasefire on the part of the government, calling on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to “be ready to fight.”
Bello said: “We will abide by the President’s decision. And I think, there is still the mutual trust and confidence of our part because if you do not trust them, there will be no reason to talk at all.”
Citing the President’s statements, Abella said many of the government’s soldiers have died because of attacks by NPA rebels.
“The NPA had broken peace, ambushing soldiers at ease some of whom had just received wages when rebels shot and killed them viciously,” Abella said.
In Cotabato on Friday, Duterte said: “I have lost so many soldiers in the past 48 hours, I think to continue with the ceasefire will not produce anything.”
Duterte, citing an army officer, said the series of attacks by the NPA showed “complete disregard for their earlier announcement that they would recall its ceasefire only by 10 February.”
The President has ordered the AFP to “go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight.”
In a statement on Friday, AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año vowed to retaliate against the NPA rebels behind the attacks.
“We shall abide by the President’s order of ending the unilateral ceasefire. It is unfortunate that the gains of the last six months would come to a halt because the CPP-NPA again resorted to the use of violence and chose arms to advance their interests,” Año said, describing the events over the past four days as “disdainful and disturbing.”
“We will go after the NPA to prevent them from conducting atrocities and criminal activities against the public. And we will hit them hard,” the AFP chief added.