PH, NDF to resume talks, silence guns

OSLO, Norway (UPDATED) – The Philippine government and communist rebels on Friday, August 26, signed an agreement on the resumption of formal talks that will silence guns for an indefinite period while they continue talks to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency. 

"The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) shall declare and issue an indefinite unilateral ceasefire order to the New People's Army and the people's militia, upon the end of their current ceasefire order on August 27, 2016," the joint statement reads. (DOCUMENT: PH, NDF joint statement on the resumption of formal talks)

The military has declared an indefinite ceasefire, too. The CPP only had a 7-day limited ceasefire, which is effectively extended by the new ceasefire order. 

Discussions for a more permanent and stable bilateral ceasefire arrangement will follow to merge the two unilateral ceasefires into a bilateral document. It will detail necessary rules of engagement that will guide actions of government troops and revolutionary forces on the ground to avoid clashes.  

"The ceasefire agreement shall be deemed interim in relation to the outcomes of negotiations leading to a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces," the joint statement reads.

This is the first time that the NDF entertained the idea of discussing a joint ceasefire with the govenrment. The document is expected within 60 days from the signing of the agreement. 

The NDF agreed to an indefinite ceasefire following a commitment from the government panel that it will recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the grant of amnesty to all political prisoners, a "necessary incentive to the ceasefire" that the NDF stressed during the opening ceremonies. (READ: Warriors, negotiators: Optimism on Day 1 of Oslo talks)

These two – ceasefire and amnesty proclamation – were the biggest issues tackled during the first round of talks that was held after a 5-year impasse.

“This is a historic and unprecedented event. Many of us have‬ ‪been here doing this before. We are looking at an opportunity that we can‬ ‪finish what we started a long time ago,” said Chief Peace Adviser Jesus‬ ‪Dureza.‬

"It is opportune to note to our fellow Filipinos that with these two ceasefires. You will expect the lowering of the level of violence," said chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III.

The successful first round of talks comes after the releases of an unprecedented number of political prisoners, among them the biggest names in the communist movement. The agreement included words of thanks from the NDF to Duterte. 

"Of course, the success of both panels can be traced all the way to the political will and determination of their principals, President Duterte and the NDFP leadership, to pursue the peace negotiations and bring about substantial social, economic and political reforms for the benefit of the Filipino people," said CPP founder Jose Maria Sison in his remarks during the signing. 

Both panels thanked the Norwegian government as the third party facilitator, and President Rodrigo Duterte for his full support for the negotiations.

The next round of talks will happen October 8-12, where the panels will begin to discuss contentious issues. "There is still a lot of work to be done," Dureza said.

7 major agreements

REUNION.

CPP founder Jose Maria Sison with the newly released political prisoners

The newly-released document shows 7 major agreements accomplished during the marathon sessions that were held since the opening ceremonies on Monday, August 22. (Editor's Note: This report previously mentioned 10 major agreements.)

All signed agreements since The Hague Joint Declaration of September 1992, including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) that details the immunity of NDF consultants from arrest.

However, both panels allowed the possibility of amending or "enhancing" these documents "as may be mutually agreed upon."

The JASIG list, for example, will be amended to include the names of 54 consultants who are "publicly-known" or have "assumed names" and another 87 guerrilla leaders who are underground but are involved in the consultation for the peace process.

 

Both parties also agreed to fast-track the peace negotiatons by agreeing to simultaneously discuss substantive agenda instead of resolving them one by one – socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. 

They also agreed to hold some of the committee level meetings in Manila instead of holding all meetings in Oslo, the third party faciliator in the peace process. 

The government aims to complete the process within one year, although the NDF refused to commit to the timeline. 

"There is that aspiration maybe of trying, but we have to look at the concrete situation. We have to make sure that agreement is stable and firm," said NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni.

Based on the government timeline, the two sides should have a final agreement on socio-economic reforms – expected to be the most contentious issue – within 6 months. Talks on this issue will be chaired by government negotiator Hernani Braganza and NDF negotiator Juliet De Lima. 

The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) will also be reactivated,  a mechanism similar to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It handles issues that crop up on the ground including possible encounters while the ceasefire is in place. – Rappler.com