NEITHER the government nor the communist rebels will observe a unilateral ceasefire ahead of the resumption of peace talks next week, spokesmen on both sides said Friday.
The communist rebels had earlier promised to declare a unilateral ceasefire ahead of the peace talks, but changed their minds when the chairman of the government’s chief negotiator, Silvestre Bello III, would not reciprocate.
“Right now, there is no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” said Bello, chairman of the government panel talking peace with the National Democratic Front.
Reacting to Bello’s statement, the chairman of the communist National Democratic Front, Fidel Agcaoili, said the rebels would not declare a unilateral ceasefire if the government did not follow suit.
“The revolutionary movement would appear foolish and open to attacks by the AFP and PNP should it declare a unilateral ceasefire while the [government] would not,” he said. “We would still aim for a simultaneous announcement.”
Duterte had earlier scrapped the peace talks after communist rebels terminated their unilateral ceasefire and killed several soldiers.
Bello, however, said the skirmishes are to be expected ahead of the peace talks.
“We are in a negotiation. When you negotiate, you must negotiate from a position of strength. That’s why they are showing us they have the strength,” Bello said.
Bello said the government’s refusal to declare a unilateral ceasefire should not be an obstacle to peace, since a bilateral ceasefire will be on the table when peace talks resume April 2.
“I think we should concentrate more on this more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” Bello said.
Bello also said there were no conditions for the resumption of the peace talks despite Duterte’s statement that the rebels must stop collecting revolutionary taxes.
“I don’t think that the President has ever imposed that as a condition. He only mentioned this as a possible term in the bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello said.
He also said the release of detained communist rebels was not a condition for the talks to resume.
He said the release of prisoners on both sides could be a confidence-building measure or a show of goodwill, but never be a condition for talks to resume.
Bello said he hoped that a bilateral ceasefire agreement can be a product of the fourth round of talks on peace.
“It will be the first item on our agenda. And we have already an exchange of drafts as to the terms and conditions and parameters of the agreement. Issues to be discussed are sensitive ones like the definition of buffer zones, the definition of collection of revolutionary tax. These will be discussed,” he said.
“And then, very important also is that the bilateral ceasefire agreement is the choice of the referee. We were for a while under the impression that our third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government would be willing to be the referee,” he said.
“But I think they are mindful of what happened in the FARC–Colombia peace process where they volunteered to be the referee. It seems that they had a bad experience so I think they are thinking of other countries who are also interested to be part of the ceasefire agreement. There were some countries already mentioned or are willing and in a position to act as our referee,” he said.
Bello said those mentioned were Switzerland, Canada and Australia, as well as several other countries.
New People’s Army supporters, meanwhile, held a lightning rally in Mendiola, near Malacañang on Friday.
The rally was done just two days after the communist rebels’ armed component marked its 48th founding anniversary on March 29.
Friday’s lightning rally was done in celebration of the “successful Second Congress” of the Communist Party of the Philippines.