HOPES that peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist rebels will bear fruit were rekindled with a declaration by the National Democratic Front (NDF) that it is willing to sign a formal bilateral ceasefire agreement despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s obstinate refusal to release political prisoners.
Government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd welcomed the statement of NDF adviser Luis Jalandoni that they are willing to sign an agreement but that it will only take effect upon the release of political prisoners.
“We are willing to sign it, but of course he [Duterte] has to make a commitment and he has to implement it,” Jalandoni said in a television interview.
“The NDF is willing to sign a bilateral ceasefire, but Duterte has to release all political prisoners within 48 hours,” he added.
Bello said Jalandoni’s statement bodes well for the peace efforts.
“The willingness of the NDF to sign the bilateral ceasefire agreement is indeed a welcome development as this bodes well for a positive atmosphere when we meet again for the third round of talks in January,” he noted in a statement.
“A bilateral ceasefire would not only benefit the combatants but the people who are caught in the crossfire of this armed conflict,” the government chief negotiator said.
Bello described the communist rebels’ willingness to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the government as a Christmas gift.
“Forging a bilateral ceasefire agreement is the best gift the government and the NDF can give to the Filipino people this holiday season. May this lead to the permanent end of hostilities for the new year leading to a just and lasting peace,” he said.
Jalandoni, during an International Human Rights Day protest at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila last week, said they are willing to sign the agreement but they will also insist on the release of the political prisoners.
Bello said the government panel “recognizes the NDF’s efforts to work with us to attain peace.”
“Its declaration of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration in August is unprecedented and historic. Agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire is another milestone in the peace process,” he added.
The NDF had demanded the release of 400 political prisoners, but Duterte had repeatedly rejected this demand, saying he had given “too much, too soon.”
“I cannot give you that. I’m sorry but I have already conceded so much on the side of the government,” the President said.
“I have conceded to the communists too much too soon. As yet, I have yet to see a substantive progress in the talks. They are asking for 130 detainees to be released… Sorry, I cannot do that,” he added.
Duterte said he will release the political prisoners if the NDF will agree to a bilateral ceasefire.
The Communist Party of the Philippines had threatened to revoke the unilateral ceasefire it earlier declared if the political prisoners are not released.
But Bello said despite the challenges, “we continue to struggle to make peace happen for the country and the Filipino people.”
“Rest assured that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte remains committed to the release of a substantial number of political prisoners. The President has already shown time and again that he delivers on his word,” he added.