PH, NDF agree to forge interim joint ceasefire

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Negotiators of the Philippine government and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) on Wednesday, April 5, signed an agreement to forge an interim joint ceasefire that will silence the guns while the two parties hammer out a final peace deal.

"The interim joint ceasefire agreement shall be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (final peace deal)," read the agreement signed in The Netherlands. (DOCUMENT: Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire)

The agreement set the parameters of the new ceasefire agreement, a result of hard bargaining by both sides. It was signed a day before the scheduled closing ceremony on Thursday, April 6.

The interim joint ceasefire will set ground rules that will govern the presence of state forces and the communist armed wing New People's Army (NPA) in communities. It will create buffer zones, and will also define prohibited and hostile acts. 

These details will still be hammered out and finalized by both panels.

Chief peace adviser Jesus Dureza could not give a timeline on when a ceasefire will take effect.

"We will operationalize the ceasefire as soon as guidelines are approved in subsequent meetings," Dureza told Rappler in a text message. 

Talks on revolutionary taxes deferred

The interim joint ceasefire will not address the collection of revolutionary taxes, an NPA activity that President Rodrigo Duterte said should stop. The two parties deferred talks on the contentious subject. 

“Matters regarding a single government authority and taxation shall be discussed and resolved in forging the Comprehensive Agreement on Political Reforms (CAPR) within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines," the agreement reads.

CAPR is 3rd of the 4 main agenda of the peace negotiations with the communist rebels. The parties are currently finalizing the 2nd agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms. 

The NDF maintained that it is the inherent right of the revolutionary government to collect taxes. The military tagged the NPA activity as extortion and thus criminal.

In February, the communist rebels pushed for a "talk while fighting" scenario when it withdrew its 6-month-old unilateral ceasefire declaration because of supposed ceasefire abuses by the military. 

Duterte responded to the NPA move by scrapping the talks altogether. Clashes resumed and the President launched tirades against the rebels. 

The talks suffered a 5-week impasse before Duterte was persuaded to reopen the peace process.

But the President listed several conditions. He wanted the NPA to agree to a joint ceasefire, to stop collecting revolutionary taxes, and to stop hostile acts against government and businesses. 

Releasing prisoners

In a press conference earlier on Wednesday, the NDF announced it is going to release its 4 remaining "prisoners of war." They are state forces whom rebels captured since the ceasefire broke down in February.  

The NDF asked the military to stand down in several areas to facilitate the safe transfer of the prisoners to 3rd party facilitators. 

Government negotiator Hernani Braganza said the military had agreed to stand down in the identified areas. 

The government also committed to release up to 23 political prisoners, mostly based on humanitarian grounds.

The releases were commitments made after the backchannel talks held in March. – Rappler.com