NDF not ready to sign final peace deal before 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The 3rd round of talks to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency opened in Rome on Thursday, January 19, with the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) formally announcing it is unprepared to sign a final peace deal earlier than 2020. 

But the NDF said it is maintaining its alliance with President Rodrigo Duterte.

Exiled Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison reiterated the NDF's new demand to wait for the successful implementation of reforms that will be agreed upon in the talks before they could consent to sit down to discuss the final step in the peace process: agree on how they will end hostilities and dispose of the forces. 

Based on Sison's calculation, a final peace deal can be achieved "as early as 2020-21." He serves as the NDF's chief political consultant. 

Sison said they can finalize in the next two years the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) and Comprehensive Agreement on Political Reforms (CAPR), and then wait for another two years to implement these agreements before they sit down again for the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF) that will complete the peace deal.

Despite the issues raised, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said he remained optimistic the talks in Rome will advance the talks substantially. 

"There are reasons to hope we can hurdle the task we meant to accomplish in these talks. From the pre-meeting of the panels held last night to finalize our discussion agenda today, I see the same commitments of both parties that animated us during the past round of talks to remain strong," Bello said. 

Ceasefire in danger

Bello is hoping they will sign in Rome a bilateral ceasefire deal amid threats that the communist combatants want to end a 5-month-old ceasefire and go back to war because of delays in the release of political prisoners and the alleged ceasefire abuses by the military. (READ: Government in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire with Reds)

A joint ceasefire deal will put in place common rules for the military and the New People's Army to follow to avoid misencounters. 

"I am one with President Duterte's optimism that in this round of talks, we are able to finalize and approve the joint ceasefire agreement," Bello said in his opening speech.

NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili enumerated in his speech alleged ceasefire abuses committed by the military, an issue that the NDF wants immediately addressed. 

"It is for these reasons that the NDFP panel has requested to place compliance with CARHRIHL and JASIG as the first item on the agenda for this third round," Agcaoili said, citing previously signed agreements: 1) Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), and 2) the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). 

In a statement earlier this week, the NDF said its combatants 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 earlier NDF statement said.

NDF list of alleged ceasefire abuses 

Here's a list of the complaints raised by the NDF in a statement released a day before the negotiators returned to the negotiating table:

The military earlier also raised complaints against supposed ceasefire abuses by the New People's Army. It has submitted to the government panel its inputs to the proposed joint ceasefire deal. – Rappler.com