THE government agreed Sunday to reinstate a ceasefire with communists rebels despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier threat to step up attacks on the group.
Negotiators for both the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front also agreed to resume collapsed peace talks, a joint statement said after the two sides met for informal talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands from March 10 to 11.
The statement also said both sides reaffirmed all the agreements they had reached before the peace talks ended abruptly last month.
“In the meantime, the parties agreed to reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefires,” as soon as both sides inform their armed units, the statement added.
The document was signed by the chairman of the government panel, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III; Hernani Braganza, member of the government panel; Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the NDF panel; and Benito Tiamzon, a member of the NDF panel.
Signing as witnesses were the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza; Efren Moncupa; Jose Ma. Sison, NDF chief political consultant; Wilma Tiamzon, secretary-general of the Communist Party of the Philippines; and Elisabeth Siattum, third party facilitator from the Norwegian government.
Dureza said the ceasefires would serve as “a prelude” to an interim bilateral ceasefire, but more meetings would be needed to hammer out guidelines and mechanisms.
The joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees, which the President terminated, has been restored to enable NDF consultants and their staff who are in jail or in hiding to join the peace talks, Dureza said.
“President Duterte himself closely monitored the efforts taken by the negotiators while in Utrecht in The Netherlands in bringing about an early breakthrough in the talks with the facilitation by the Royal Norwegian Government,” Dureza said.
Earlier, in a press briefing, Duterte ordered an all-out war against the communists and also told the military to “flatten the hills.”
Duterte, a self-described socialist who once boasted of his links to the communist rebels, had reopened stalled peace talks with the 4,000-strong communist rebel movement after taking office in June.
His government released captured rebel leaders and both sides had called separate ceasefires to pave the way for peace talks overseas.
But Duterte angrily called off peace talks in February after guerrillas—demanding he release more of their detained comrades—killed soldiers in a series of attacks.
Last week, Duterte ordered the military and police to step up their attacks following a communist ambush that left four policemen dead on Wednesday.
“This time, I’m using everything. I have encouraged the police to call in the air assets. Use our new jets. Make use of the rockets and bombs. Flatten the hills with bombs,” Duterte said.
The joint statement said an NDF negotiator, arrested after talks collapsed, would be released.
The next round of formal talks will be held in April with another round to be held in June, the two sides said.
The leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan welcomed the resumption of peace talks, but said it would “continue to resist intensifying state fascism under the Duterte government.”
“The regime should now recall its all-out war declaration, stop the militarization of communities and end human rights violations. It should do away with its so-called counter-insurgency program dubiously called ‘Oplan Kapayapaan’. Duterte is again called on to free all political prisoners as a matter of justice long overdue,” said Renato M. Reyes, Jr., Bayan secretary-general.
Religous leaders from Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform and Sowing Seeds of Peace in Northern Mindanao said they were elated over the resumption of peace talks.
Before the resumption of peace talks was announced, the Philippine National Police ordered its regional offices to fortify their defenses against possible attacks by the NPA, which have been on the rise.
“We will prevent any attacks on our police stations, but we don’t have just to stay inside police stations as we need to go out and do services to the people,” said PNP spokesman Sr. Supt Dionardo Carlos.
The NPA staged three separate attacks in Benguet slaying four policemen and killing another four in Davao del Sur recently and three civilians in Pagadian City.
In the Davao NPA attack, the policemen aboard a mobile patrol were responding to a shooting of a civilian when they were waylaid before reaching the crime scene.
The communist insurgency began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military. With Francisco Tuyay, Bobby Lagsa, AFP