MANILA, Philippines – Government peace negotiator Hernani Braganza said he is counting on the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) to keep its ceasefire commitment amid fears that the rebel group is going to withdraw it soon. (READ: Soldiers report skirmishes with NPA in 7 areas)
“We agreed to meet again on February 22 to discuss the possibility of having a bilateral ceasefire agreement. This was a commitment by both parties since round 1. So far both parties remain committed to having a bilateral ceasefire,” Braganza told Rappler on Tuesday, January 31.
The panels agreed to hold a side meeting in The Netherlands in late February to discuss the possibility of elevating the current ceasefire arrangements into a more stable bilateral ceasefire deal that will put in place common rules for the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) to follow. (READ: PH, NDF make significant headway in talks despite clashes)
But NPA spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos is scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday morning, February 1, prompting speculation that the armed group of the communist movement will announce a decision to return to the battlefield.
The government panel is counting on the NPA not to do this until after the February meeting in The Netherlands.
‘Ceasefire still in place’
A series of armed encounters that the military has blamed on the rebels threaten to end the ceasefire. Two soldiers were killed, one was abducted, and at least 3 were wounded across Luzon and Mindanao in the last 3 days. (READ: Duterte’s peace adviser slams NDF over series of rebel attacks)
NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said on Tuesday afternoon that the ceasefire is still in place. He blamed the clashes on the aggressiveness of the military, citing the first firefight in Makilala, North Cotabato that killed one rebel.
“As of today, the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the CPP and NPA is still in place,” Agcaoili said.
The NDF, the guerrillas’ political arm, has previously warned that its forces were inclined to withdraw its 5-month-old ceasefire declaration. (READ: Gov’t in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire)
Backchannel talks were conducted and the government panel considered the threat averted after the NDF committed to discuss a possible bilateral ceasefire agreement that could make the current ceasefire arrangements more stable.
Braganza said it is important to hold the ceasefire as the panels begin difficult talks on proposed reforms to the countyry’s social and economic policies.
Braganza recalled how firefights on the ground have negatively affected the peace talks and once prompted a government a walkout.
“It’s not good for the talks. There are incidents that may lead to delays or impasse in the talks,” said Braganza. – Rappler.com