NEARLY a month after the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and communist rebels reopened peace talks abroad, the government’s chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III has reported no major clashes nor incidents between the two sides.
But no sooner had Bello finished his sentence than the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed wing, the New People’s Army, accused the 31st Infantry Battalion troops of the Armed Forces of undertaking what it described as offensive operations in far-flung barangays of Sorsogon.
The rebels claim this violates the government’s declared unilateral truce.
Bello said he is optimistic a bilateral agreement will be reached and put in place once the second round of peace negotiations is resumed on Oct. 4 to 10, also in Oslo, Norway.
“It is indicative of the sincerity of both parties in the [peace] process which augurs well for peace,” Bello said of the lull in the fighting.
Both parties agreed to submit drafts for the formal bilateral ceasefire agreement when the negotiations resume next month.
“Hopefully, this will ripen to a bilateral and permanent ceasefire and finally the end of hostilities,” Bello said.
President Duterte earlier restored a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire on the eve of the formal resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front last month to create a favorable condition for the negotiations.
The NDF in return extended its 7-day goodwill ceasefire (Aug 21-27) and declared its own indefinite ceasefire when the first round of talks in Oslo ended on Aug. 26.
One of the NPA’s attached units in Sorsogon however accused the military of breaching its own ceasefire, after the AFP confirmed troops were recalled from their combat operations in accordance with President Duterte’s ceasefire declaration.
“The actions of the 31st IBPA (Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army) troops violate its own ceasefire and the order of their Commander-in-Chief, President Duterte, to strictly abide (by) the Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) of the AFP,” New People’s Army–Sorsogon–Celso Minguez Command Spokesperson Samuel Guerrero said in a press statement.
The Philippine military said the NPA has been reduced to less than 4,000 armed regulars scattered nationwide.
NDF panel chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni claimed they have 10,000 armed regulars operating in more than 120 guerrilla fronts that cover more than 72 provinces.
Both parties are set to submit outlines and drafts on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms in the next round of talks by October, with a proposed draft of amnesty proclamation for all listed detained NDF members already up by the next round.