Despite reported violations, NDFP and GRP discuss bilateral ceasefire

NATIONAL Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives met Tuesday and Wednesday (September 20 and 21) at the Royal Norwegian Government’s (RNG) Embassy in Taguig City to discuss the possibility of revitalizing their Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on human rights and international humanitarian law and the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire.

In an effort to further accelerate their peace negotiations, the NDFP and the GRP agreed to hold committee and sub-committee level discussions on both issues facilitated by Norwegian Special Envoy for the Philippine Peace Process Elizabeth Slattum.

The discussions’ agreements are currently being reviewed before their elevation to the negotiating panels for approval at their formal negotiations in Oslo, Norway on October 6 to 10.

“Whatever was agreed upon by the working groups in the Philippines will be elevated to the panel level during formal talks in Oslo for discussion and approval,” GRP Negotiating Panel member Hernani Braganza said.

“This is another breakthrough in the peace process,” Braganza said.

The NDFP was represented by panel members Fidel Agcaoili and Coni Ledesma as well as consultant Concha Araneta-Bocala while the GRP delegation was led by its committees on JMC and Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms chair Efren Moncupa at their discussion on the JMC last Tuesday.

On the verge

Formed after the February and March-April 2004 formal peace talks, the JMC is tasked to monitor the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

After JMC’s Joint Secretariat office was established in June 4, 2004, however, the GRP under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno C. Aquino governments has refused to undertake joint activities with the NDFP Monitoring Committee.

The NDFP also revealed that the Aquino administration through its Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles asked the RNG to terminate its support for the JS.

“The RNG disagreed with the proposal.  They told the GPH they could not unilaterally cease their support of the JS as it is part of the agreement enshrined in the CARHRIHL,” NDFP Negotiating Panel member and Human Rights Committee chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

He added that the RNG reminded the GPH that closing down the JS must be a mutual decision of the parties to the CARHRIHL.

The GRP Monitoring Committee nominated section of the JS has since been noticeably downsized while the NDFP counterpart has maintained its full complement of staff members involved in organizing and attending peace forums, publishing books and various other peace-related and human rights activities.

A total of 6,397 human rights violations complaints have been filed at the JS office in Cubao, Quezon City, as of last May 23.

Four thousand four hundred seventy one complaints have been filed against the GPH while 1,926 complaints have been filed against the NDFP.

Many of the human rights violations complaints against the GPH were connected to retired Major General Jovito Palparan and the various units under his commands during the Arroyo government.

“More durable and permanent ceasefire”

The discussions in Taguig City yesterday talked about the possibility of extending the ongoing GRP-NDFP mutual, unilateral and indefinite ceasefire declarations and proposed agreement on a joint ceasefire.

“What we have at the moment is a unilateral ceasefire declared by both parties. We hope to sign a bilateral agreement in Oslo for a joint ceasefire, which is more durable and permanent,” said Braganza, supervising panel member for the JMC and GRP ceasefire committee.

“Our aim is to harmonize the operational guidelines of the GRP and the NDF during ceasefire to avoid mis-encounters or other violations of the agreement. We are also expected to come up with a mechanism for reporting of ceasefire violations,” Braganza said.

Braganza noted that the GRP and the NDF panels earlier agreed “to reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral document within 60 days.

The NDFP and allied organization Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have reported ceasefire violations by GRP forces, however.

“Disrespect of Duterte”

The CPP reported that the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) has arrested Marcos “Ka Munroe” Aggalao, a 73-year old retired NPA fighter at Balbalan, Kalinga last September 10.

Tipon Gil-Ayad, spokesperson of the Lejo Cawilan Command of the New People’s Army in Kalinga Province said Aggalao’s arrest violated the ongoing ceasefire declarations and the CARHRIHL because of Aggalao’s age and non-combatant status.

NDFP-Mindoro reported that Philippine National Police-Region IV B has arrested NPA member Jeffrey de los Reyes in Victoria, Oriental Mindoro last September 21 “while fulfilling his tasks for the peace process.”

Ka Ma. Patricia Andal, NDF-Mindoro spokesperson, accused the PNP as “traitors” and “insincere towards the peace talks.”

“They are boorish for disrespecting the ceasefire directive of their commander in chief Rodrigo Duterte,” Andal said.

The Celso Minguez Command of the NPA also reported that the 31st IBPA are still operating in Barangays Sinibaran, Bon-ot, Coron-coron, Cabagahan and Bariis in the town of Matnog and in Barangay San Antonio, Barcelona in Sorsogon despite  the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s reported confirmation that GRP troops have been recalled from their combat operations in accordance with President Duterte’s ceasefire declaration.

“They remain in these areas.  Meanwhile, they again conducted operations in Barangay Calateo in the municipality of Juban (Sorsogon) since the morning September 15, 2016,” NPA’s Celso Minguez Command spokesperson Samuel Guerrero said in a press statement.

“The actions of the 31st IBPA troops violate its own ceasefire and the order of their Commander-in-Chief, President Duterte, to strictly abide the Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) of the AFP,” Guerrero said.

Meanwhile, OPAPP announced the composition of the GRP and the NDFP’s ceasefire committees.

Ceasefire committees formed

“The GRP ceasefire committee is chaired by Dr. Francisco Lara, currently Philippine Country Director of Philippine Alert; with members that include Dr. Jaime Aristotle Alip, Atty. Adel Abas, retired police Senior Supt. Wilmer Panabang and Atty. Marie Dinah Tolentino-Fuentes,” OPAPP in a statement said.

It also said that Agcaoili is NDFP’s ceasefire committee chairperson with NDFP consultants Benito Tiamzon, Rafael Baylosis, Tirso Alcantara and Alfredo Mapano as members. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)