Govt, Reds hail ‘step forward’ in peace talks

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NEGOTIATORS of the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) closed a fourth round of talks in the Netherlands on Thursday with both parties agreeing to declare a ceasefire, distribute free land and release prisoners.

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In a joint statement, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) as well as the CPP, the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed that a “significant step forward” was achieved when they signed the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire on April 5 that could eventually lead to an end to hostilities.

“This is the farthest point that we have already achieved in our negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF,” Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said.

The two parties explained that they have directed their respective ceasefire committees “to discuss, formulate and finalize the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of the Agreement.”

The guidelines will be the “annexes” in the main agreement on an interim joint ceasefire that will provide for the rules governing “the presence of armed units and elements of both parties in local communities, the creation of buffer zones, the prohibition of hostile and provocative acts, and ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanisms.”

The government and the NDF agreed that the interim joint ceasefire would take effect only “upon the approval and signing of these ground rules.” It will also be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.

And to comply with President Rodrigo Duterte’s conditions for the forging of a ceasefire, the two parties said the issues relating to “revolutionary tax” collection and a single government authority “shall be discussed and resolved as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms, within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines.”

The NDF also agreed to “effect the immediate, safe and expeditious release of Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police elements held captive by the New People’s Army in Eastern Mindanao.”

The two parties announced that the captives held in Soccsksargen region would be released before Easter, April 16, and those held in Bukidnon and Caraga after that.

Although both sides agreed on an interim joint ceasefire, Dureza clarified that the two parties still needed to come up with mutually agreed guidelines before it takes effect.

“After three days of not-so-easy exchanges and difficult meetings, the GRP and NDFP panels a few hours ago signed a document where the two sides agreed to a joint interim ceasefire agreement that is NOT YET effective but will be operationalized and implemented as soon as the guidelines, rules and mechanisms are mutually agreed upon by both sides,” Dureza said in a Facebook post.

The next round of talks was tentatively set on May 27 to June 1, also in the Netherlands.

CPP wants socioeconomic deal signed ahead

Aside from agreeing to declare a ceasefire, both parties’ achievements in the fourth round of talks included firming up agreements on the free distribution of land, which is one of the provisions of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser).

CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison, who is also the NDF chief political consultant, emphasized that Caser must be signed before, or simultaneously with, the interim joint ceasefire.

Sison said that as he read and studied the drafts of the proposed agreements from the GRP and NDF and their comparative matrices, he found common points of agreement.

“However, that as a matter of principle, Caser should be a step ahead of the joint ceasefire agreement, unless these agreements can be signed at the same time by the panels and then by the principals,” he added.

The panels also plan to work on coming up with amendments to the existing agrarian reform law to reflect the agreements.

NDF peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili echoed Sison’s statement and reiterated “the wisdom of securing the approval of the Caser ahead of any single joint ceasefire agreement, unless both agreements could be signed simultaneously.

In their joint statement, both parties also said that they remain committed to exploring all options for the release of political prisoners.

Elisabeth Slattum, a Norwegian facilitator, said peace negotiations were the only way to resolve the conflict between the Philippine government and the communists “through dialogue and political processes.”

The fourth round of talks came after a five-week impasse that followed violent clashes between the military and the NPA, which prompted President Duterte to scrap the talks.

Duterte was later persuaded to reopen the talks but he set conditions, including the adoption of a more stable joint ceasefire arrangement.

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