No peace deal expected soon as NDF extends timeline of talks

MANILA, Philippines – The communist National Democratic Front (NDF) wants to impose a new timeline for its peace talks with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, throwing a monkey wrench into government plans to complete the negotiations by August 2017.

Ahead of the start of the 3rd round of formal talks later this week, January 19-25, the NDF issued a statement extending the timeline for a final peace deal by at least 2 more years or by 2019 at the earliest, as it began to question the sincerity of the Duterte administration.

"The panel wants to remain optimistic because it is acutely aware of the Filipino people's high expectations and demand for genuine change. But the panel is also very much aware that the people are tired of promises from politicians and the Manila government that are routinely broken," the NDF said in a statement on Tuesday, January 17, signed by NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.

The government and NDF negotiators will begin to discuss in Rome details of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms or CASER, the so-called heart and soul of the peace process that aims to address widespread poverty in the Philippines, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms or CAPR.

The NDF statement is demanding the successful implementation of CASER and CAPR for 2 years before they go back to the negotiating table to discuss the final agreement to complete the talks, the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF).

As early as the 1st round of talks in August 2016, the NDF had expressed doubts that the talks could be completed in a year. The new timeline, in fact, is longer than an earlier pronouncement by Agcaoili that the talks could still be completed within 2 years. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Fragile talks with the Philippine Left)

This development puts an anticipated meeting between Duterte and exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison in doubt. Duterte had expressed hopes for substantial progress in the talks before his personal meeting with his former professor. (READ: Duterte awaits meeting with Joma Sison)

'Ground' wants to withdraw ceasefire

The NDF said its combatants also want to withdraw the 5-month-old ceasefire because of delays in the release of prisoners and alleged military violations of the ceasefire. (READ: Gov't in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire with Reds)

"The strong sentiment of the NDF forces on the ground and the masses in many parts of the country is for the withdrawal of the NDFP unilateral ceasefire because of broken promises on the release of political prisoners and violations of the ceasefire by the GRP," the NDF statement said. 

Agcaoili had warned about this in a Rappler Talk interview after the new year. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Fragile talks with the Philippine Left)

The chances for the bilateral ceasefire agreement – the joint deal that is expected to address the 2 complaints raised by the NDF – to be signed in Rome are also "growing dim," according to the NDF statement. 

Duterte said there will be no more releases until both camps sign a bilateral ceasefire deal that will guarantee a prolonged ceasefire by imposing common rules for the military and the New People's Army. 

A joint ceasefire deal is also where the two camps can address alleged ceasefire violations committed on the ground.

The releases and the joint ceasefire deal were meant to make the environment conducive for the difficult talks on CASER, CAPR, and CAEHDF.

Agcaoili had said talks should continue even as fighting resumes on the ground.

"The Parties can continue with the work of forging agreements on SER (socio-economic reforms) and PCR (political and constitutional reforms) to address the roots of the armed conflict and thereby ensure just and lasting peace," the statement said. – Rappler.com