Panels begin formal ceasefire negotiations

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands—The reciprocal ceasefire committees of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) negotiating panels has begun their formal negotiations on at least two proposed truce modes this morning.

Said to be the most contentious issue on the approved agenda in this fourth round of talks, the parties ceasefire committees are discussing the GRP’s bilateral ceasefire proposal it first submitted at the third round of formal talks in Rome, Italy last January and the NDFP’s joint unilateral ceasefire declarations to be bound by a memorandum of understanding.

The panels have earlier discussed GRP’s new bilateral ceasefire proposal before the formal opening of this round following new instructions from Malacañan Palace in Manila.

GRP President Rodrigo Duterte has made a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the NDFP one of his four “barest conditionalities” in order for the peace talks to continue.

The conditionalities have caused the delay in the opening ceremony of the fourth round by a day to allow for the two parties to hold informal discussions on a bilateral interim ceasefire agreement demanded by Duterte.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III in a Malacañan news briefing last March 31 said he received only one marching order from Duterte: “Get me a ceasefire agreement.”

In his opening remarks at yesterday’s opening ceremony, however, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison emphasized that the ceasefire agreement should not come before a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms.

“It is possible for the GRP and NDFP Negotiating Panels to forge and sign the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and the consequent joint ceasefire agreement,” Sison said.

“But I wish to stress as a matter of principle that the people demand that CASER be a step ahead of the joint ceasefire agreement, unless these agreements can be signed at the same time by the panels and then by the principals,” he said.

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili echoed Sison’s statement, stressing the issue of ceasefire should not be pursued as an end in itself.

“Ceasefires, whether unilateral or bilateral, are just a means to an end. Its main purpose is to create conditions conducive to reaching agreements on basic re- forms that are satisfactory to both sides,” Agcaoili said.

“The NDFP believes it is possible to have a bilateral ceasefire agreement that conforms to the position that simultaneous and reciprocal declarations of unilateral ceasefire can be agreed upon and bound by a Memorandum of Understanding that shall be issued at the end of the fourth round of formal talks,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)