THE Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army declared on Friday a seven-day unilateral ceasefire hours after the release of its high-ranking leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who were named consultants to peace talks in Norway next week.
The CPP said in a statement the ceasefire will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of August 21 until 11:59 p.m. of August 27. The formal talks are scheduled August 22 to 26 in Oslo.
“This ceasefire declaration is encouraged by the GRP’s facilitation of the release of nearly all NDFP consultants who are set to participate in peace negotiations in the course of the next several months,” the CPP-NPA said in a statement.
“With or without reciprocation by the [government of the Republic of the Philippines], the NPA must maintain a high-level of alertness against enemy troop movements,” the CPP said.
“Even while ready to engage in defensive action, the NPA will exert efforts to carry out early counter-maneuvers to avoid armed encounters during the specified ceasefire period,” it added.
The CPP said that they are anticipating the release of the rest of the NDFP consultants so that everyone can participate in the peace talks, including Eduardo Sarmiento, who was arrested in February 2009 and convicted of murder.
The CPP reiterated its “deep appreciation of the determined efforts of GRP President Duterte to push forward and accelerate the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as a means of addressing the roots of the civil war in the Philippines.”
“We hope that this ceasefire declaration will be reciprocated by the GRP as a show of all-out determination to move forward with peace negotiations,” said the CPP.
The CPP anticipates the upcoming Oslo peace talks to discuss the recommendation for the GRP President to issue a general amnesty to pave the way for the release of all political prisoners slapped with trumped up criminal charges to cause their prolonged detention.
The Tiamzons are the last among the detained ranking members of the NDF to walk out as free persons after courts granted them temporary passes under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees for the duration of the formal peace talks slated to begin on Monday.
In a speech before supporters, the Tiamzons thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for freeing them and for bringing peace talks back on track, and allowing them to participate.
“We have to have meaningful conversations about our society and find out what are the reasons for the armed conflict,” Wilma said in Filipino.
Her husband Benito added that the reopening of the peace talks was an opportunity to discuss the profound social, economic and political reforms needed to put an end to the armed conflict.
He said they were confident that a peace agreement could be reached to achieve social reform, despite the many obstacles to overcome.
Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said there should no longer be any doubt that President Duterte is serious and determined to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old communist insurgency, following the release of the Tiamzons.
“With their release, in addition to more than a dozen of NDF consultants earlier granted bail and already freed, one more stumbling block is removed. We are looking forward to fruitful but intense negotiations in Oslo,” Dureza said.
Peace talks between the government and the NDF were suspended in 2011 over several disagreements, particularly the continued arrest and detention of rebel peace talks consultants.
On the campaign trail, Duterte, then Davao City mayor, promised to reopen peace talks with the communists and said he would release all detained political prisoners.
The releases, however, had to go through normal judicial procedures as required by law.
On Monday, Duterte ordered the Bureau of Immigration and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assist in providing travel documents to the NDF consultants flying to Oslo.
Beginning Tuesday this week, the 22 NDF consultants were issued passports.
The Norwegian embassy has also started issuing visas to delegates from both panels who will travel to Norway for the peace talks.
“We have agreed to expedite the peace process by simultaneously holding negotiations on five major agenda items by creating respective reciprocal working groups,” Dureza said.
This explains the large number of NDF consultants who are traveling abroad, he said.
The peace panels are expected to immediately tackle the following: social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces, ceasefire, joint security and immunity and release of political detainees.
The government said more than 550 members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army are still under government custody in various detention centers throughout the country.
President Duterte has already promised to release elderly and sick communist rebels on humanitarian grounds while the mode of the releases of the remaining rebels will be the subject of the negotiations.
The government’s panel head Silvestre Bello has already left for Saudi Arabia and travel directly to Oslo in time for the arrival of the Philippine delegation. Other members of the government panel are lawyers Rene Sarmiento, Antonio Arellano and Angela Librado-Trinidad. The fifth member, former Agrarian Reform secretary Hernani Braganza, had already left ahead to confer with the NDF panel in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The Philippine delegation will leave for Oslo Aug. 20.
The peace talks are scheduled for August 22-26.
Dureza said the government of Norway is underwriting the travel expenses of the NDF delegation.
Norway is hosting the peace talks as a third-party facilitator.
The NDF on Friday ordered the release of two policemen who were captured by NPA rebels as a sign of goodwill for the resumption of peace talks on Aug. 22. The two were police chief Arnold S. Ongachen of Governor Generoso and PO1 Michael B. Grande of Banaybanay, Davao Oriental.
The military expressed caution after the Tiamzons were released.
“We hope they are sincere. We hope that their release will eventually lead to peace in our country. We hope they will take advantage of the peace offer of our President,” Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said in a statement.
“Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, the Army is ready to face the next challenge, to move forward,” he added.
Also on Friday, hundreds of students in Tacloban City along with the leftist group Bayan called for the release of all political prisoners.