Panels working to salvage 5th round

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands—The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel said it is drafting a reply to its Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) counterpart as part of efforts to find common ground and allow the fifth round of formal peace negotiations to proceed.

In an interview, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said the NDFP Panel is ready to talk about socio-economic reforms and other substantive agenda set in their April 6 Joint Statement.

Agcaoili added their reply shall clarify to the GRP the NDFP panel could not order the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to retract its order to the New People’s Army (NPA) to further intensify their offensive operations against the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

He explained the CPP’s directive was a response to GRP defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statements that the NPA was among the targets of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Martial Law declaration over the entire Mindanao region.

Agcaoili cited bombings of communities in North Cotabato and Bukidnon that killed one civilian and injured several others in the past two days.

“There are NPA units operating in those areas,” he said.

He added that they could only recommend to the CPP in much the same way that GRP’s chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III and Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza could not order the AFP and the GRP security cluster to withdraw their all-out war policy against the NPA and lift President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law declaration over the entire Mindanao region.

Agcaoili said they have gone as far as they could go in recommending to the CPP to reconsider its order to the NPA.

GRP’s ceasefire demand

Agcaoili revealed the NDFP panel was also told by the GRP panel it wants a bilateral ceasefire agreement signed during the fifth round.

“We have made our position clear that until we reach an agreement on social and economic reforms as well as political and constitutional reforms, there could never be a ceasefire,” Agcaoili said.

“We hope they would receive our reply positively so that, hopefully, we can proceed with the opening ceremony of the fifth round tomorrow,” Agcaoili said.

Abella’s statement wrong

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, for his part, clarified that Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella’s statement is wrong.

“The government of the Philippines will not proceed with the scheduled 5th rounds of peace negotiations in The Netherlands,” Abella said in a statement in Manila.

Abella’s announcement was lifted from Dureza’s prepared statement read to Filipino and Dutch journalists covering the talks.

Informed of Abella’s announcement, GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello looked surprised but said such statements should only come from the government panel present in The Netherlands.

“The fifth round is still a possibility,” Bello said.

The panels are set to meet again at five o’clock in the afternoon (local time, 11 pm Philippine time) in a last ditch effort to salvage the scheduled fifth round. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)