Further delay looms in PH-NDF joint ceasefire deal

MANILA, Philippines – Defense officials and military officers met with chief presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza this week to present their inputs for the proposed bilateral ceasefire deal that will impose common rules for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the communist New People's Army (NPA) to avoid misencounters  on the ground. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, January 12, threw back to the communist rebels allegations of ceasefire violations that they made against the security forces, and demanded that these be addressed in the joint deal.

"Mayroon kaming inputs diyan. We would like also to be heard. Mailagay naman sa agreement ang mga hinaing din namin sa armed forces. Discussion lang ito, wala pa naman sinasabing magpipirmahan na eh," Lorenzana said.

(We gave our inputs. We would like also to be heard. We want the complaints of the armed forces considered in the agreement. These are just discussions; we're not talking about something ready for signing.)

What is in place at the moment are separate indefinite unilateral ceasefire declarations. They have been holding for 5 months, but the complaints are growing from both camps. Thus, the need for a joint ceasefire deal.

Lorenzana said the agreement cannot be rushed: "This process will take a little bit longer than we hoped [it] to be. But hopefully we will be able to agree on this bilateral ceasefire agreement." 

He said that while the military supports the peace process and hopes to sign a joint ceasefire deal, it is also ready to go back to war if the negotiation fails due to what he called difficult demands by the communist rebels. He did not elaborate. 

"It's 50-50," Lorenzana said when asked if he is confident that the ceasefire will continue to hold.

"They have difficult demands that the President is not willing to give," he said in Filipino.   

NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said there is real threat that the ceasefire could collapse because of delays in the release of political prisoners and the military's alleged ceasefire violations. (READ: Ceasefire with Reds in danger)

Agcaoili said the military is taking advantage of the ceasefire by occupying areas – schools and residences, among others – that they previously could not reach because of the presence of the NPA. 

Lorenzana said the communist rebels have difficult demands. He also accused them of burning facilities owned by businessmen who refuse to pay revolutionary taxes. This is one issue that the ceasefire agreement should settle. 

"While both sides have unilateral ceasefires, some people are making trouble in the south, like extorting money from businessmen, burning facilities and buses," said Lorenzana, who wants these activities to stop. 

The military and the NPA declared separate unilateral ceasefire. The absence of common rules has made the situation on the ground untenable, however. They originally aimed to sign in October 2016 the  joint ceasefire deal that should establish the clear rules, but the signing  has been repeatedly delayed. – Rappler.com