AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands—The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) announced it will not reinstate its unilateral ceasefire declaration with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as both parties agreed in their March 11 joint statement.
In a televised press briefing in Malacañan Palace in Manila yesterday before his flight to this country, GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III announced there is “no reason” for them to declare a unilateral ceasefire in time for their fourth round of formal peace talks.
“There is no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President (Rodrigo Duterte) is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello said.
GRP’s decision, however, reneges on the GRP-NDFP Utrecht Joint Statement “to reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefires which shall take effect before the scheduled fourth round of talks in April 2017 as soon as their respective forces shall have been informed.”
“I think we should concentrate on this more important (bilateral ceasefire) agreement, because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” he added.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) earlier promised it will reinstate its unilateral ceasefire declaration in time for the next round of talks in Noordwijk.
But Bello said he no longer expects the CPP to declare a unilateral ceasefire following his announcement.
“If they feel we are not prepared to declare one, I don’t think they will proceed with their declaration of a unilateral ceasefire,” Bello said.
Flexible and open
The NDFP, for its part, expressed surprise at GRP’s decision, calling Bello’s announcement “an unexpected departure from the March 11 backchannel agreement.”
“The NDF and the GRP agreed to this measure in the interim in order to move the talks forward and improve the atmosphere for negotiations after the impasse last February,” an NDFP statement issued after Bello’s press briefing said.
Nonetheless, the NDFP negotiating panel said it is willing to be flexible and is open to discussing with its counterpart what kind of bilateral ceasefire agreement is desired by the GRP in place of the unilateral ceasefire.
“The NDFP is one with the GRP in desiring to resolve the serious concerns that have been raised in relation to the previous six-month unilateral ceasefires, mindful that addressing these issues is crucial to ensuring that any ceasefire agreement in the future would be more effective,” its statement said.
Ready for the talks
Meanwhile, peace negotiators from both parties have started to arrive in this country in time for the scheduled opening of the fourth round of talks in the seaside city of Noordwijk on April 2.
Rearrested NDFP peace consultant Ariel Arbitrario has been released from the Compostela Provincial Jail and is already in this city for the negotiations.
Arbitrario’s release came shortly after the New People’s Army released two paramilitary troopers in Davao Oriental as a goodwill measure for the coming talks.
Both parties said they will continue their “very difficult” negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms and a joint ceasefire document.
The venue of the fourth round of talks will be held in Noordwijk to allow NDFP chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison’s participation.
Sison is steadily regaining his health after weeks of hospitalization due to pulmonary problems.
The Royal Norwegian Government is third party facilitator to the GRP-NDFP peace process. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)