Bilateral ceasefire talks may proceed, NPA to release POWs–CPP

THE Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said talks for a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) may proceed as scheduled on February 22 to 27 if President Rodrigo Durterte decides to send his negotiating panel and emissaries to The Netherlands.

In a statement, the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA)  said they reiterate their support to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

“The revolutionary forces are encouraged by the previous statements of GRP President Duterte that all political prisoners will be released within 48 hours once the bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed,” it said.

“However difficult, the revolutionary forces are willing to work with the GRP negotiators to hammer out a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will be mutually acceptable and enforceable,” the CPP added.

The underground party however said it anticipates that negotiations concerning the terms of reference of a bilateral ceasefire agreement will be most difficult.

“The revolutionary forces are bound by principle to assert the withdrawal of the AFP’s operating troops from areas under the sway of the revolutionary government,” it said.

POW releases

 As a positive gesture for the holding of the talks, the CPP said it will call on all concerned NPA  units to expedite the release of the six prisoners of war (POWs) captured over the past days.

 The CPP said various NPA custodial units are holding as prisoners of war the following AFP personnel:

  1. PFC Edwin Salan, captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29;
  2. Sgt. Solaiman Calucop, and
  3. Pfc Samuel Garay, captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2;
  4. PO2 Jerome Natividad, captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9;
  5. Paramilitary Rene Doller, and
  6. Paramilitary Carl Mark, captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14.

WATCH: POW asks Duterte to expedite his release.

The underground party said the NPA commands in charge of the custodial units can work closely with third party facilitators, usually the Philippine National Red Cross, churches and human rights organizations.

While mayor of Davao City, Duterte was known for facilitating the release of NPA POWs in various parts of Mindanao.

“The AFP can cooperate by withdrawing all troops in and around the area where the POWs will be released to pave the way for their safe and orderly release,” the CPP said.

“Assuming the cooperation of local AFP commands, all POWs can return to their families before or during the scheduled negotiations in The Netherlands,” it added.

Thorny issue

Plans for bilateral ceasefire agreement negotiations were approved immediately after the GRP Negotiating Panel submitted a formal proposal last January 24 during the third round of formal peace talks between the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Rome, Italy.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said he was encouraged by the NDFP’s reception to their proposal, one of the government’s major objectives in the last round of talks.

“I find their (NDFP) response reasonable,” Bello  said.

The peace process hit a snag, however, after the AFP attacked an NPA encampment in Makilala, North Cotabato last January 21 while the formal peace talks were ongoing in Rome.

The CPP and the NPA then terminated their unilateral ceasefire declaration last February 1 due to various other military combat operation in CPP-controlled territories.

The Duterte government responded by terminating its own ceasefire declaration, suspending the formal negotiations  with the NDFP and declaring an all-out war against the NPA, effectively shelving plans for bilateral ceasefire negotiations later this month.

Previously, Duterte repeatedly announced his desire for a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the underground Left, vowing to make good on his earlier promises to release all NDFP-listed political prisoners within 48 hours once signed and delivered to him.

Duterte subsequently revealed that top officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and some members of his Cabinet are against the mass release of political prisoners, prompting him to backtrack on earlier pronouncements.

The CPP however asked Duterte “to heed the people’s clamor and reverse his earlier pronouncements terminating  the  peace negotiations.”

“The CPP earnestly encourages him to do so. He would surely not want to set aside the achievements attained during the first three rounds of GRP-NDFP peace talks and waste the opportunity to leave a legacy of peace,” it said. (Raymund B. Villanueva)