Reds vow commitment to talks amid Duterte's disillusionment
MANILA, Philippines – Communist rebels reiterated their commitment to peace negotiations with the government following President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncements of disillusionment in the talks. (READ: No peace with communists in our generation)
In a statement released Friday night in Manila, February 3, the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines engaged in talks with the government, detailed its timeline for the negotiations and reiterated its intent to join Duterte as among the co-founders of the proposed federal state of the Philippines.
"The NDFP remains hopeful that the peace talks will proceed on track and that the comprehensive agreements on socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms currently being negotiated will be deemed ready for approval by both Panels by end-2017, and soon after by the principals," said NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.
"We continue to hope that efforts on both sides will lead to the co-founding by the NDFP and the GRP of the Federal Republic of the Philippines and the achievement of just and lasting peace for our people," Agcaoili added.
The NDF also revealed adjustments to its demand to release about 400 political prisoners, one of the reasons the NPA cited terminating its ceasefire with the government.
The NDF said the rebels are now willing to wait until after the completion of talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), touted as the "heart and soul of the peace process" because it envisions to draw a roadmap to ending the root causes of conflict. (Read the proposals here.)
But the NDF reiterated calls for the immediate release of an estimated 50 sick and elderly political prisoners. The rebels, who expected the releases in December last year, had blamed the military for blocking them.
Radical reforms to end communist insurgency
In the speech where he announced he has lifted government's ceasefire with the New People's Army (NPA), Duterte hit the rebels over demands that, he said, were "really too huge." He said they were "impossible to meet or even work out a compromise."
Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said Duterte only cancelled the ceasefire. "We assume that peace talks will still continue as scheduled unless otherwise ordered by the President," he said.
Talks to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency has been on and off for the last 3 decades. The communist rebels are proposing radical reforms to the country's social and economic policies, proposals that the government panel said are generally in line with Duterte's vision for the country.
The ceasefire and releases of political prisoners were meant to make the environment conducive for the difficult talks ahead.
The NDF said, however, that the panels could still make progress in the talks despite the resumption of violence, citing previous gains under former administrations – particularly under Fidel Ramos – when no ceasefire was in place.
Military proclaims support to talks
The Philippine military also made pronouncements that it supports the continuation of the peace talks.
"Rest assured that the AFP will continue to support the peace talk with the NDF to find a permanent peaceful solution to this 4 decades long conflict," Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año said in a statement.
Duterte lifted the government ceasefire to match the NPA's termination of its ceasefire announced on February 1, but effective February 10. The government ceasefire was terminated immediately.
The NPA claimed the ceasefire held for 5 months only because their forces were supposedly evading aggressive military operations.
Six soldiers and an NPA rebel were killed since violence resumed on January 23. The NPA also said they've taken 5 soldiers as "prisoners of war."
The NPA made a last-minute offer to reconsider the termination of its ceasefire but it's demand – the pullout of troops in 500 villages – had been repeatedly dismissed by the military.
"The NPA urges the AFP and the Duterte regime to pull out all its troops from more than 500 barrios before February 10. If it does so, together with the release of all political prisoners, it may preempt the complete termination of the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the CPP and NPA," the NPA said in a statement.
The government is hoping to reinstate the ceasefire through a bilateral ceasefire deal that is envisioned to impose common rules on the military and the NPA to avoid armed encounters.
The panels scheduled a February 22-25 side meeting in The Netherlands to discuss a possible joint ceasefire deal. But the talks will prove to be challenging for the negotiators. (READ: Twitter convo with NPA: Duterte, ceasefire, and revolutionary taxes)
The 4th round of talks is scheduled in April in Oslo, Norway. – Rappler.com