MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte administration is still optimistic that a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) can be signed by December 10, despite a lack of consensus on key issues.
"We're not giving up that by December 10, we will have a joint signing of a permanent ceasefire which will eventually lead to cessation of hostilities," said Labor Secretary and government panel chief Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday, November 22, during a Palace news briefing.
December 10, World Humanitarian Day, was the next deadline for the signing of the deal after the first deadline, October 26, lapsed.
Lack of consensus on some terms of reference in the draft deal, however, have led to an impasse.
"There are some terms and conditions where we have not reached a consensus. For example, the issue of what is considered a hostile act. There are ramifications like, for example, is collection of revolutionary tax considered a hostile act?" said Bello in a mix of English and Filipino.
While the levying of revolutionary tax is considered "unlawful" by the government, the NDF depends on the tax to support its forces, the New People's Army, added Bello.
The government official acknowledged that there are reports coming from both the military and the Left of violations of the unilateral ceasefire declared by both sides.
But he said no offical report has been filed with the ceasefire monitoring committee.
"There are some saying there are violations but officially, no complaint has been submitted both from the military and NDF side...In other words, our ceasefire deal is holding out," he said.
Pardon for political prisoners
If the bilateral ceasefire deal is not signed on December 10, it's possible that the government will just announce an extension of its unilateral ceasefire. While the unilateral ceasefire is "indefinite" and does not technically need an extension, Bello said such an announcement would be for the "comfort" of the public.
Meanwhile, he said it's "very possible" that President Rodrigo Duterte will pardon 40 to 50 political prisoners during the Christmas season, something the NDF panel requested for.
"It's very possible that some will be given pardon, especially the elderly, sickly, and women," he said.
Previously, Duterte said he is inclined to pardon all aged and sickly prisoners during the holidays.
The government aims to complete the peace process in a year. The two sides have met for formal talks in Oslo, Norway twice. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.