DAVAO CITY , Philippines – The government and communist rebels have agreed to resume peace talks and restore the truce following an escalation of deadly clashes.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza yesterday said the government and rebel negotiators would resume talks early next month and discuss the terms of a broader ceasefire.
Dureza said the decision to resume the peace talks came after backchannel meetings between key members of both panels last Friday and Saturday in the Netherlands.
Norway, which has been brokering the negotiations, was again instrumental in the two-day informal talks in the Netherlands that led to a decision to resume the talks.
“I am pleased to announce that the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF)… are now back on track,” Dureza said.
He said the government also has agreed to release the detained rebels who are consultants to the peace talks and reinstate the immunity from arrest of 19 other NDF consultants.
The NDF is the umbrella organization representing the CPP-NPA in the peace negotiations with the government.
Both parties have also agreed to reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations that will take effect before the scheduled fourth round of talks in the first week of April.
“The unilateral ceasefire is a prelude to an interim bilateral ceasefire that needs further meetings between the two sides to determine and agree on rules, necessary guidelines and mechanisms. The parties are expected to start discussions on the bilateral ceasefire during the planned resumption of the negotiations during the first week of April this year,” Dureza said.
He said President Duterte “closely monitored” the two-day exploratory talks held in Utrecht last Friday where the decision to resume formal peace negotiations was reached.
The two panels have agreed that they will continue the formal peace talks and reiterate their reaffirmation of all bilateral agreements and statements, including The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
Malacañang welcomed the resumption of peace talks and expressed hopes that the rebel leadership would be able to control its ground forces.
“The Palace welcomes the announcement of … Secretary Jesus Dureza in Utrecht… on the resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“We remain hopeful that the leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDF can rein in its forces on the ground in reciprocating the efforts of the Duterte administration to move the peace process forward,” he added.
Abella stressed that peace building is “not the exclusive responsibility of the government.
“The burden is also shared by those who claim to speak for the underserved,” he said.
“The resumption of the peace talks is a welcome sign that both sides are in agreement about the common good of the Filipino people.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also expressed full support for the resumption of peace talks with the communist rebels.
“The AFP has time and again expressed its unequivocal support to all peace initiatives undertaken by our government past and present,” spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
However, Padilla said they would wait for the official pronouncement from the President regarding military operations against the NPA.
“We will anxiously await the official message of our panel and the instructions of our Commander-in-Chief. Pending this, all military operations will continue and remain at current state,” he said.
This developed as a suspected NPA rebel was killed in clashes with government troops in Lagonoy, Camarines Sur early yesterday.
Officials said troops from Army’s 83rd Infantry Battalion clashed with some 30 NPA rebels in Barangay Pinamihagan.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries on the government side during the 15-minute firefight with the rebels.
On Tuesday, three suspected NPA rebels were killed during an encounter between troops from the 83rd Infantry Batallion and 20 more rebels in Barangay Tabgon in Goa, Camarines Sur.
Last month, President Duterte ended the government’s ceasefire and ordered the suspension of peace talks with the rebels.
He also ordered the military to resume fighting after the NPA lifted their own truce and killed troops in a spate of attacks.
Duterte said the communists made “unreasonable demands” regarding the release of more political detainees that apparently caused the breakdown in peace talks.
The NPA accused the government of not complying with its obligation to declare an amnesty for the rebels and release about 200 so-called political prisoners under an earlier agreement. – With Michael Punongbayan, Alexis Romero, Celso Amo, AP