The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Saturday said it would no longer declare a unilateral ceasefire following the decision of the government not to call a truce and instead negotiate a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
In a statement, the CPP said that it “fully supports” the resumption of peace talks “despite the non-issuance of ceasefire declarations by either side.”
“The Communist Party of the Philippines did not proceed to issue a declaration of interim ceasefire yesterday [March 31], after the GRP [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] announced that it will not issue a similar ceasefire declaration,” the CPP said.
It noted that the issuance of ceasefire declarations was supposed to be done reciprocally as agreed upon by both the government and the communist political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF), in their March 11 joint statement announcing the resumption of talks.
“The Party looks forward to fruitful discussions and positive steps towards forging an agreement on socioeconomic reforms as well as political and constitutional reforms,” the CPP said.
The group said it anticipates that “the question of free land distribution to the tillers, the most pressing social justice issue in the country, will be fully addressed in the talks.”
“The CPP also anticipates intense discussions and debates on the people’s demand for national industrialization, as well as expansion of public services, versus the insistence of the GRP to pursue the neoliberal policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation,” it added.
The communist rebels expect “heightened attacks” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) “against civilians in light of Duterte’s non-declaration of ceasefire.”
“The Party calls on the people to rally and protest the extrajudicial killings, aerial bombings, occupation of communities, forcible evacuations, hamletting, and other fascist criminal attacks perpetrated by the AFP against the peasant masses,” the CPP said.
“In light of AFP’s intensified attacks against civilians, the New People’s Army (NPA) is duty-bound to punish the perpetrators of these fascist crimes and carry out offensives to disable the AFP from carrying out further attacks and armed suppression against the civilians,” it added.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte had directed the government peace panel to insist on a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
Duterte made the instruction ahead of a fourth round of talks with representatives of the communist group.
“The President has instructed the government peace panel the terms for a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the CPP/NPA/NDF,” Abella said in a statement, quoting Undersecretary Nabil Tan of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
Abella said Duterte wanted “clear parameters or terms of reference for the ceasefire.”
Aside from clear parameters, the President wants the following:
• the government’s non-recognition of any territorial claim of the CPP/NPA/NDF;
• a stop to the CPP/NPA/NDF’s collection of revolutionary tax as well as extortion, extraction and arson activities; and
• the release of all CPP/NPA/NDF prisoners.
The government peace panel and the NDF will resume peace negotiations on April 2 to 6 in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, close to Utrecht where rebel negotiators and some of the senior leaders of the insurgency live in exile.
NDF willing to discuss bilateral deal
The communist rebels also said they were willing to discuss a formal ceasefire proposed by the government.
“The [front]believes it is possible at the soonest time to have a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” chief rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said in a statement issued from his exile in the Netherlands late Friday.
He said the rebel negotiating team was “willing to be flexible and is open to discussing with its counterpart what kind of bilateral ceasefire agreement is desired by the [government].”
The rebels are waging one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, which began in 1968 in the poverty-stricken country and has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives according to the military.
President Duterte, a self-described socialist who once boasted of his links to the communist rebels, has made a peace deal with the movement one of his top priorities.
After taking office, he released captured rebel leaders and both sides declared separate temporary ceasefires to pave the way for peace talks, the first round of which Norway hosted and mediated in August.
But the fiery leader was seen to have jeopardized the peace process in February, angrily calling off talks after the guerrillas killed several soldiers and police in a series of attacks.
Norway convinced the two parties to return to the negotiating table following informal talks held in the Dutch city of Utrecht last month.