MANILA, Philippines – Negotiators of the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have committed to pursue the peace process even as they failed to maintain the 5-month-old ceasefire between the military and communist rebels. (READ: NPA ends ceasefire but says talks should continue)
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the government’s chief negotiator, said the government panel will seek the reinstatement of the ceasefire through a more stable bilateral ceasefire agreement that will address complaints by both sides. (READ: NPA withdrawal from ceasefire unexpected)
The NDF issued a statement Wednesday evening to assure the government that it is determined to pursue the talks despite the issues raised by its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), in its declaration to end its 5-month-old unilateral ceasefire.
February side meeting
A February 22-25 side meeting was previously arranged to discuss the government draft of the proposed bilateral ceasefire deal. NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili told Rappler that it’s up to the government panel if the February meeting is going to proceed.
Bello in a press conference at the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon that it is a crucial meeting.
“Lalong dapat ituloy (All the more reason it should take place). We have to provide the talks with an atmosphere that is conducive to the conduct of the peace negotiation. Mahirap ‘yung habang nag-uusap kayo e nagpuputukan sa likod ‘nyo (It’s hard to talk when there’s fighting going on),” he said.
The government negotiator on top of the ceasefire talks, Hernani Braganza, said he wants the ceasefire back in place as the panels proceed with the difficult talks on key reform proposals. (READ: PH, NDF talks: Both sides need to make painful compromises)
He said violence on the ground had previously triggered walkouts in the negotiations. “If there’s ceasefire, we avoid problems that might affect the conduct of peace talks,” Braganza said.
Government negotiators also decided to recommend to the President Rodrigo Duterte that the government should keep its ceasefire with the NPA.
‘Talk while fighting’
Still, the NDF maintained that the talks could make progress despite the resumption of violence, reminding the government of gains in talks in past administrations despite the absence of a ceasefire.
Agcaoili said they are looking forward to the 4th round of talks in April. The negotiators will return to Norway, the facilitator of the peace talks.
Agcaoili said the history of the talks that had been on and off for 3 decades showed how they have been able to forge agreements without a ceasefire, particularly during the administration of President Fidel Ramos. He detailed his “talk while fighting” scenario in a Rappler Talk interview before the 3rd round of talks in Rome last month.
The first of the 4 main themes in the talks – the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRILL) – was signed during Ramos’ time. The two panels have been stuck on the second agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).
CASER is considered the heart and soul of the peace process. It envisions a roadmap to eradicate widespread poverty in the Philippines and address the root causes of conflict.
Bello said he remains confident they could complete a peace deal. “Kung hindi na namin sila pinagkakatiwalaan, hindi na kami makikiharap sa kanila (If we do not trust them anymore, we won’t face them). The fact that we continue to talk to them is an indication that we still believe in their sincerity,” Bello said. – Rappler.com