COMMUNIST rebels on Sunday announced the release of six uniformed government personnel it had held as “prisoners of war,” in a show of goodwill to convince the Duterte administration to return to peace negotiations.
In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), said they remained optimistic negotiations for a bilateral ceasefire agreement would proceed as scheduled on February 22 to 27 in the Netherlands.
The CPP said that if the President was “obsessed with peace” as his peace negotiators had claimed, “he can heed the people’s clamor and reverse his earlier pronouncements terminating peace negotiations.”
“The CPP earnestly encourages him to do so. He would surely not want to set aside the achievements attained during the first three rounds of GRP-NDFP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) peace talks and waste the opportunity to leave a legacy of peace,” it said.
To show goodwill, the CPP said it had directed all concerned NPA units to release three soldiers, a police officer and two militiamen the rebels seized during a series of attacks against security forces that prompted Duterte to cancel the peace talks on February 4.
The CPP identified the captives as Pfc. Edwin Salan, Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pfc. Samuel Garay; Police Officer 2 Jerome Natividad; and militiamen Rene Doller and Carl Mark.
The men were held hostage during the series of attacks in Sultan Kudarat, Bukidnon and Davao Oriental. Most of the attacks happened at the height of peace negotiations and the NPA’s unilateral ceasefire, which infuriated the President.
“Assuming the cooperation of local AFP commands, all [prisoners of war]can return to their families before or during the scheduled negotiations in The Netherlands,” the CPP said.
To ensure success of the negotiations, the CPP said the GRP should help facilitate the travel of the NDFP’s ceasefire committee members and consultants.
“However difficult, the revolutionary forces are willing to work with the GRP negotiators to hammer out a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will be mutually acceptable and enforceable,” it said.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año had said the military was willing to support the resumption of peace talks.
But the military chief reiterated that the AFP has a duty to stop atrocities of rebel groups, particularly attacks on private and public installations, extortion and killings.
“We are not closing our doors on peace negotiations. The Armed Forces, more than anyone, wants peace. The soldiers want peace,” he pointed out.