TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed the government peace panel to produce a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) when both panels resume talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands on April 2 to 6.
Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Sec. Silvestre Bello III said Friday this was the instruction given to them by the President during their meeting last Monday in Davao City. Also present in the meeting was Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.
Bello said there will be no unilateral declaration of ceasefire on the part of the government prior to the holding of the 4th round of talks. Bello stressed that the bilateral ceasefire issue is first on the agenda of the negotiations.
Bello said the government panel composed of lawyers Angela Librado, Antonio Arellano and Rene Sarmiento and Hernani Braganza are prepared to hold the next talks with the NDFP.
Amid the increasing offensive attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels especially in Bukidnon, Agusan and Davao areas, Bello said the government panel will continue to be steadfast in their efforts and resolute in putting a closure to the armed conflict.
“We owe this to our people. Our millennials deserve it,” Bello said in a press briefing in Malacanang aired live on television.
Bello is hoping they would arrive at a consensus on the bilateral ceasefire to end the hostilities on the ground.
“We expect the discussion in this round of talks to be very, very, very difficult and exacting but we shall be persistent in advancing the cause of peace as inspired by our President’s determination to unite our people,” Bello pointed out.
It can be recalled that during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy, the GRP panel already gave the NDFP the draft bilateral ceasefire agreement, which the NDFP panel agreed to review.
Bello said part of the discussion are sensitive issues including the definition of buffer zones, the definition of the collection of revolutionary tax, the choice of 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,” Bello said.
Both panels would have discussed the draft bilateral ceasefire last February but this was stalled after Duterte decided to pullout the government panel.
The President’s decision came on the heels of the announcement of the NPA in Mindanao to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declared in August. The termination of the unilateral ceasefires by both sides resulted to a number of clashes between the NPA and government troops.
Given the setbacks, Bello underscored President Duterte’s efforts and initiatives to achieve an inclusive and lasting peace in the country.
Following the announcement of the Communist Party of the Philippines on their intention to declare a unilateral ceasefire before the 4th round of talks, Bello said the President wants the bilateral ceasefire agreement signed.
“I think we should concentrate more on this (bilateral ceasefire) more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” he pointed out.
Bello said this would put the parameters and the terms of reference of the agreement. “Kaya mas importante ‘yun, mas mahalaga po ‘yun (So that’s more important, most significant),” he added.
Asked on the issue of revolutionary taxes, Bello clarified that the President mentioned that as a possible term in the bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“Kasi the President is aware that in these talks, we are governed by The Hague Joint Declaration that is we conduct the peace negotiation without any precondition,” Bello stressed.
Also in the agenda of the 4th round is the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER), which is the heart and soul of the negotiations because the issues would touch on addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.
Last March 23 and 24, the government peace panel committee on socio-economic reforms met with 35 national government agencies (NGAs) to draw out their positions on the government’s draft CASER.
The positions of the NGAs will serve as points for the negotiation with the NDFP. These are the agenda on agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development.
CASER is crucial to the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP because this will address the root causes of armed conflict such as land distribution, poverty and inequality.
The peace panel is targeting to seal the deal on CASER in six months of uninterrupted peace talks.
Land distribution and national industrialization were initial issues agreed by both GRP and NDFP to discuss under CASER during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy last January.
In the Rome talks, both parties have set the ground rules for the conduct of the formal meetings between the panels of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) SER (socio-economic reforms).
The RWCs-SER agreed in principle to the distribution of land to farmers and farm workers as part of the governing framework of CASER.
On April 2 to 6, both panels are set to resume the stalled peace negotiations after the successful back channel talks on March 10 to 11 in Utrecht, The Netherlands where they also reiterate the reaffirmation of all bilateral agreements and statements made in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, including the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Lilian Mellejor/PNA-northboundasia.com