COMMUNIST rebels said there would not be a ceasefire agreement by the target date of December 10, and blamed the government for lacking the resolve to release political prisoners while negotiations are ongoing.
“To put it realistically, a bilateral ceasefire agreement is most likely not to be forged before or around December 10,” the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement.
“The failure of the GRP to release all political prisoners in accordance with the August 21-26 Oslo talks, discourages the revolutionary forces from pursuing negotiations to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” said the CPP.
“The longer the GRP takes to fulfill its obligation to release all political prisoners, the prospects of such an agreement ever being forged become ever dimmer,” they added.
The government and the NDF earlier agreed to transform their separate unilateral ceasefires into a joint, bilateral ceasefire within two months from the signing of their Joint Statement last August 26 — but both negotiating panels have to agree further on some terms and conditions, including the definition of hostile acts, identification of battle zones, and members of the team that will monitor the ceasefire’s implementation and compliance.
Benito Tiamzon, CPP chairman, said that as of mid-November, the NDFP has not monitored any development in the government’s pledge to release a substantial number of political prisoners by the end of this month. Tiamzon also added that political prisoners should be released before December.
On Tuesday, Labor Secretary and government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said they would still target a ceasefire agreement by December 10, despite some drawbacks and insisted that the release of political prisoners should not be used as a condition for such an agreement.
“Let us not forget that a permanent ceasefire will eventually lead to the cessation of hostilities,” he said.
Bello said President Rodrigo Duterte plans to grant absolute pardon of 40 to 50 political detainees before Christmas as a confidence-building measure with the communist rebels.
Despite failed attempts at peace under five previous presidents, Foreign Minister Børge Brende of Norway said there is a new momentum under the Duterte administration that bodes well for prospects of a lasting peace.
He said he saw a breakthrough in the third round of talks scheduled for late January.
“Under the leadership of President Duterte and also Secretary [Jesus] Dureza, we have seen a new momentum in the process with the guerrillas and this is important for the Philippines,” Brende told the reporters on the sidelines of the European Ambassadors’ Forum on the Philippines’ Peace and Development Roadmap at the Diamond Hotel.
Brende said so far, since the current government resumed talks, there are now at least two new working groups that are looking at the economic and social development; and political participation on the peace agreement.
“I think there will be a new breakthroughs during the round of talks in later January…I see progress in this process,” he said.
Dureza for his part said the Philippine government is pushing to sign the peace agreement “as soon as possible” so they can move forward in implementing the treaty before Duterte finishes his term.
“I think the sentiment across the table is that would like to do it as quickly as possible while the President is still the President of the country so there is a lot of time left in implementing the agreement,” Dureza added.
Brende also said that Norway is willing to assist the Philippines in the implementation phase both economically and politically.
“Achieving peace is high on President Duterte’s agenda and compliments also to Secretary Dureza for your commitment. I think the steps taken by the President can result in a historical breakthrough…but the job is not done yet,” Brende said.
Both Brende and Dureza, however, declined to comment when asked about the leftist threat that they will not sign the agreement if President Duterte will not abrogate military treaties with the United States.
“We don’t respond to a specific questions that are outside the negotiation table because we have not yet taken that into account. You know you have to also help us nurture the environment of good negotiations,” Dureza said.
Brende said both parties are focused on finding a solution despite the “bumpy road” of negotiations.
“It’s a historical opportunity to reach an agreement so that conflict can be settled,” Brende said, adding that an end to a 50-year conflict would give the country “great opportunities” to move forward.
The CPP-NPA-NDF was founded in 1969 by former student activist Jose Maria Sison seeking to establish new state led by the working class and be free from the influence of the United States.
The group modeled its armed struggle and protracted people’s war after China’s Maoist movement.
The CCP has two related units: its armed wing, the New People’s Army, which was established in 1969; and its political arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The NDF is the umbrella organization of communist-run organizations, and it represents the CPP-NPA in negotiations with the Philippine government.
Since the creation of this group, CPP-NPA has been engaging in guerrilla warfare against government forces believing armed revolution to be the solution to replace what it considers the current oppressive system.
It funds its activities primarily through “revolutionary taxes,” forcing businesses to pay the group to avoid being attacked.
For the past 30 years and five Philippine presidents, there have been attempts to hold peace negotiations with them but all have failed.
According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, over 40 rounds of talks have been held, but snagged on contentious issues on sovereignty, the release of political prisoners, and the CPP’s inclusion in terrorist lists. Over 1,300 political detainees were released by the government, and 20 agreements have been signed – yet no final peace settlement has been agreed upon.
In 1986, the administration of President Corazon Aquino began peace talks with the CPP, but these proved unsuccessful. Another attempt was made in 1995 under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, which culminated in the signing of two agreements: the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, which guarantees free and safe movement for those involved in peace negotiations; and the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
Negotiations once again stalled after this, with alternating periods of conflict and negotiations during the term of Ramos’ successor, President Joseph Estrada. Under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the government returned to the negotiating table with the CPP-NPA, but this also broke down after the US listed the group as a terrorist organization.
Under President Benigno Aquino III, several meetings and informal talks were held in Manila, Norway, and the Netherlands. Aquino’s term, however, ended at an impasse due to the NDF’s demand that political prisoners be released.
Brende said this time, he see a “renewed willingness” from both parties to work upon a solution to the conflict.
“We have to look at this in longer terms and we have to be patient. We know that this conflict is one of the longest-running insurgencies in Asia – more than 45 years. This conflict has created deep wounds. It has caused human sufferings and it has caused a lack of development in the affected areas. After years of little progress in the process, we now see a renewed willingness from both parties to work upon a solution to the conflict,” he said.