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CPP-GRP ceasefire successful so far, Joma acknowledges

The ongoing ceasefire between the government and the communist rebels had largely been successful, paving the way for more meetings between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiators, Jose Maria Sison acknowledged.

“By and large, the two parties have complied with the ceasefire agreement and allowed it to serve as goodwill and confidence-building measure for enhancing the environment for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP negotiations,” Sison said in a statement two days before the end of the reciprocal unilateral ceasefires on Tuesday, January 7.

Sison added that since December 26, when the GRP had provided the NDFP with copies of suspension of military and police operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, there had been no reported firefights between combatants of both parties.

The NDFP earlier explained that the firefights in Camarines Norte and Iloilo on the morning of December 23 when the holiday truce was scheduled to start happened before the GRP issued its own orders to effectively start the ceasefires.

The PNP on both occasions admitted that they were on combat patrol when waylaid by NPA guerrillas but said they were in the process of pulling out of their operations.

But Sison claimed that 401st Infantry Brigade-Philippine Army’s troop movement that disrupted a Communist Party of the Philippines event in Bacuag, Surigao del Sur last December 30 was offensive in nature and a violation of the ceasefire agreement.

The communist leader, however, seeks to downplay the incidents, saying there had been “no incident in which one side fired at the other side” since December 26.

“The few allegations of ceasefire violations have not disrupted the nationwide implementation of the reciprocal unilateral ceasefire agreement. Such allegations can be threshed out by the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels and the Joint Monitoring Committee under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” Sison explained.

In an earlier online interview with Kodao, Sison said that a successful ceasefire may be extended while meetings to set up a formal round of NDFP-GRP negotiations this month are underway.

“That can be considered by the NDFP negotiating panel if its GRP counterpart proposes,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NDFP expects Bello to remain as GRP chief negotiator

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) expects labor secretary Silvestre Bello III to continue his role as chief government negotiator if ongoing efforts to resume formal talks succeed.

Owing to his “experience” and “competence”, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said they expect Bello to remain as chief negotiator once President Rodrigo Duterte formally reconstitutes the Government of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel.

“I expect Secretary Bello to remain the head of the GRP panel because of his accumulated experience in negotiating with the NDFP and his well-known success in forging the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) with the NDFP,” Sison told Kodao in an online interview.

The most veteran of all government negotiators with the NDFP, Bello served in various capacities in six GRP administrations, both in official and during backchannel and “unofficial” meetings.

Bello was the chairperson of the GRP Reciprocal Working Committee on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law that crafted with its NDFP counterpart the CARHRIHL. It was signed in March 16, 1998 in The Hague, The Netherlands.

“He has the legal expertise and high sense of diplomacy. He is competent at standing for the GRP and at the same time knows how to come to terms with the NDFP because he understands the patriotic and progressive viewpoint of the NDFP, unlike the militarists who merely wish to destroy or make the revolutionary movement capitulate,” Sison added.

Most recently, Bello and other government emissaries successfully negotiated a reciprocal unilateral ceasefire with the NDFP that took effect last December 26 as a goodwill measure for the possible resumption of peace talks between the two parties this month.

The last GRP panel, composed of Bello, former agrarian reform secretary Hernani Braganza and lawyers Angela Libraro-Trinidad, Antonio Arellano and Rene Sarmiento, was dissolved last March 18.

Duterte, however, ordered the government panel’s reconstitution and named executive secretary Salvador Medialdea as a new member, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced last December 22.

Bello told reporters in a gathering last December 27 that he expects to continue his role as GRP panel chairperson.

Siguro naman,” he said. (It is probable.)

Bello revealed that he is scheduled to fly back to The Netherlands next week to meet with NDFP representatives.

“We will meet on January 6 for a possible schedule to agree on an interim peace agreement,” Bello said. 

A draft interim peace agreement, initialed by both parties and witnessed by the Royal Norwegian Government as Third Party Facilitator, included agrarian reform and national industrialization components of the prospective social and economic reforms agreement, amnesty proclamation for all NDFP-listed political prisoners, and coordinated unilateral ceasefires. 

The next scheduled meeting is an “informal talk” aimed as preparatory to a formal meeting for the resumption of formal peace negotiations based on the draft interim peace agreement, sources to the negotiations said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

Disruption of CPP event violates ceasefire, Joma says

The disruption by the Philippine Army (PA) of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) event in Surigao del Sur earlier today, December 30, was a violation of the ongoing reciprocal unilateral ceasefires between the government and the rebels, Jose Maria Sison said.

“The troop movement is offensive in character, provocative to the NPA (New People’s Army) and disturbing to the community and is, therefore, a violation of the ceasefire,” Sison told Kodao in an online interview.

Asked to react to the incident, Sison warned that such actions by government troops may lead the NPA to defend itself.

Government soldiers belonging to the PA’s 401st Infantry Brigade “swarmed” a village in Bacuag town Monday morning, causing the NPA to cancel its celebration of the CPP’s 51st founding anniversary and mass wedding of its members.

NPA Guerilla Front 16 spokesperson Ka Oto also asked journalists on their way to the venue to turn back “as it is no longer safe.”

Col. Maurito Licudine, 401st IBPA commander, said they arrested two suspected communist rebels Sunday who admitted under interrogation that the CPP event was to be held Monday.

Licudine immediately deployed troops to the event venue, along with four 105mm howitzers, Mindanews reported.

“What held us was our concern that the communist rebels will withdraw from the negotiating table,” he said.

PA 4th Infantry Division commander Major General Nemecio Gacal, Jr. for his part blamed the communist rebels from “venturing out from their camps,” thus also violating the ceasefire agreement, Mindanews reported.

Sison disagreed, however, crediting his comrades for preventing a potentially deadly incident that may derail ongoing efforts to restart the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“[I]t is less than an incident in which the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) or PNP (Philippine National Police) fires at the NPA and sheds blood. Apparently, the CPP and NPA were able to adjust to the situation and prevent their enemy from firing at them and the people,” Sison said. 

He advised the CPP and NPA units threatened by the AFP troop movement to report and file a complaint to the NDFP negotiating panel. 

Sison also urged the GRP side to adhere strictly to the ceasefire agreement “just like the NDFP side has done.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Joma, Bello welcome Medialdea’s inclusion to GRP’s next peace panel

President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to include Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to the government’s negotiating panel bodes well for the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Jose Maria Sison said.

Sison, NDFPs chief political consultant, said Malacañan’s announcement to include Medialdea to its next negotiating panel signifies that Duterte gives importance to the work of his negotiating panel.

“Duterte gives importance to the work of his negotiating panel and possibly indicates that his Executive Secretary will help him act faster on major issues in the peace negotiations,” Sison told Kodao in an online interview.

Sison acknowledged that the executive secretary would be the highest-ranking government official ever to be a Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Negotiating Panel member.

“The Executive Secretary is considered the little President or his alter ego. He signs presidential issuances under the line, by the authority of the President. Thus, he may be considered the highest-ranking government official ever to be a negotiating panel member,” he said.

He also pointed out that the President’s decision goes against the public pronouncements of “militarists” in Duterte’s own Cabinet.

“The appointment indicates that Duterte is concerned about asserting the principle of civilian supremacy in view of the militarist actuations and actions of his military minions who blatantly oppose his desire for the resumption of peace negotiations,” Sison said.

‘No one closer to Duterte’

Former government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III echoed Sison’s views, saying Medialdea’s appointment to the GRP panel is a significant gesture by Duterte in his bid to restart the negotiations he himself ordered terminated in 2017.

 “You cannot get closer to an authority from the President than that,” Bello told a gathering of reporters Friday, December 27. 

“The presence of his executive secretary shows the President’s commitment and resolve [to restart the talks],” Bello said.

Both the NDFP and the GRP expect to hold more backchannel meetings next month at about the time the parties’ reciprocal unilateral ceasefire agreement ends on January 7. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ceasefire finally on; NDFP receives GRP’s truce orders

The Philippine government has finally transmitted its ceasefire orders to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel the group said paves the way for the unilateral and reciprocal ceasefires to “proceed effectively.”

In an announcement, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said they received copies of Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Offensive Police Operations (SOPO) from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) at 8:54 a.m. Thursday, December 26, at their office in The Netherlands. (3:54 p.m., Philippine time.)

“We hope that from hereon the unilateral and reciprocal ceasefires declared by the two Parties shall proceed effectively,” Agcaoili said.

Agcaoili said former GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III sent the documents. 

The NDFP chief negotiator said the SOMO, dated December 24, was issued by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Noel Clement while the SOPO, dated December 22, was issued by Philippine National Police (PNP) officer in charge Archie Gamboa.

Both documents comply with a memorandum issued by Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Eduardo Año, Agcaoili added.

Last December 22, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that GRP President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the AFP, PNP, DILG and the Department of National Defense to issue the government’s truce orders.

On the same day, the Communist Party of the Philippines has issued its truce order, a day ahead of the scheduled start of the ceasefire agreement last December 23, Monday.

Earlier, questions were raised whether government military and police forces would abide by their commander in chief’s directive as combat operations were reported to have been conducted as late as December 23.

Ninth Infantry Division-Philippine Army public affairs chief Major Ricky Aguilar told reporters Monday that a platoon of government soldiers on combat patrol was ambushed by New People’s Army (NPA) fighters in Labo, Camarines Norte.

A government trooper was killed while six others were injured by an improvised explosive device as the soldiers were pulling out from Barangay Paat at about 9:20 a.m., Aguilar said.

Also last Monday, PNP’s Gamboa accused the NPA of staging an ambush against the Iloilo Mobile Force Company that injured two police officers in Tubugan town, Iloilo Province.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said that both incidents were not violations of the ceasefire agreement as the GRP has yet to issue its truce orders at the time.

The ceasefire would be in effect only after both parties have issued their respective truce orders, the December 21 NDFP-GRP Joint Statement signed in Utrecht, The Netherlands reads.

As to GRP’s transmittal of its truce orders, Sison said there is no more problem about continuing the CPP ceasefire order to the NPA.

“The best thing to do is cool down and proceed with the reciprocal ceasefires and let them generate goodwill and confidence in preparation for the resumption of the peace negotiations,” Sison added.

The holiday truce shall be in effect until January 7. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

GRP, NDFP propose reciprocal unilateral ceasefires over the holidays

SAN VICENTE, Palawan–National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) representatives in Utrecht, The Netherlands have agreed to recommend the issuance of reciprocal unilateral ceasefires over the holidays.

A joint statement sent to Kodao by NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison says the proposed ceasefire declarations, if approved by NDFP Chairperson Mariano Orosa and GRP President Rodrigo Duterte, would be effective from midnight of December 23 to January 7.

“The ceasefires are intended to generate a positive environment conducive to the holding of informal talks preparatory to the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations,” the statement, signed last Saturday, December 21, reads.

“These shall be measures of goodwill and confidence building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays,” it added.

Sison also posted photos of the informal talks in The Netherlands, the second since Duterte announced last December 5 that he has sent labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to Europe to try to reopen the stalled formal peace negotiations with the NDFP.

Only former agrarian reform secretary Hernani Braganza and his assistant Rhoda Ignacio were present in the December 21 meeting for the GRP however.

Saturday’s joint statement appears to be initialed in behalf of Bello and signed by Braganza in behalf of the GRP while negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili and senior adviser Luis Jalandoni signed in behalf of the NDFP.

Royal Norwegian Government’s Kristina Lie Revheim witnessed the document in her capacity as Third Party Facilitator.

The document adds that the parties shall separately issue the corresponding ceasefire orders.

“During the ceasefire period, the respective armed units and personnel of the Parties shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the other,” the statement explains. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Permanent truce is possible with CASER approval, Joma says

Report and video by Urbano Guevarra

Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison raised the possibility of a “permanent truce” with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, even as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines expressed keenness to cooperate with the Duterte administration on social and economic reforms.

Sison, the NDFP’s chief political consultant, clarified, however, that the truce does not mean the rebels will lay down their arms immediately.

“The end of the conflict certainly is possible. But to completely destroy and abolish the revolutionary army? No, time must be given. There is such a thing as a permanent truce, like South and North Korea,” Sison said in an exclusive interview with Kodao in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

The on-and-off peace talks between the government and the rebels are being revived as the two sides expressed last week that recent back channel talks proved productive.

Sison stressed that there are “common and separate responsibilities” between the government and the NDFP in implementing proposed agreements under the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, or CASER, a key agenda in the talks.

For example, Sison said, “Land reform – how can you carry it out quickly? It is with the agreement (of the government). Sila ang may records ng public lands and contested lands. You have to consult them.”

Sison said some observers may misconstrue that under a peace agreement, the NDFP might be subsumed under the current Philippine government. Not so, said Sison. “No. The important thing there is to first have cooperation.”

Sison also said that if the talks succeed, the Philippines would have a new constitution. “The constitutions of the two parties will be the working drafts…Considering the substantial agreements on economic and social reforms, it should be easy to have a common and new constitution,” he said. #

Christmas ceasefires possible after ‘friendly’ back channel talks–Sison

Reciprocal unilateral ceasefires can be declared by both National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) forces and the Manila government during the Christmas season following successful “informal” talks between the NDFP and President Rodrigo Duterte’s envoys in The Netherlands last weekend.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison told Kodao in an online interview that they have proposed goodwill measures “in the spirit of Christmas and the New Year” during their meeting with labor secretary Silvestre Bello III and Hernani Braganza, Duterte’s envoys, last December 7 and 8.

The goodwill measures include the release on humanitarian grounds of sick and elderly political prisoners and the detained NDFP consultants as well as the declaration and implementation of reciprocal unilateral ceasefires, Sison said.

Sison said Bello promised to present the proposed measures with the President. Bello was supposed to have reported to Duterte Wednesday night.

 Sison added that another informal meeting may soon occur within the month to prepare for the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations in the second or third week of January 2020 as Bello has earlier announced.

He said that such expectations are reasonable, “especially if the goodwill measures are carried out.”

A holiday truce, however, had been earlier opposed by the GRPs defense chief Delfin Lorenzana.

‘Peace saboteurs’

In a speech last December 9, Lorenzana rejected the idea of declaring a ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA) in the coming holidays.

“If there’s a ceasefire, the soldiers go back to their barracks because the operations are stopped. But the NPA are recruiting in the villages to increase their power,” Lorenzana said.

“Let us just not enter into a ceasefire,” Lorenzana said, adding there will be no let up in the conduct of intensified military operations against the NPA.

Sison slammed Lorenzana’s opposition to ceasefire declarations as “hostile and run counter to the wish of the GRP President and commander-in-chief to resume the peace negotiations.”

“The President should assert his political authority to overrule the militarists who wish to spoil or sabotage the efforts to resume the peace negotiations. Otherwise the peace negotiations cannot be resumed,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Joma urges Duterte to undertake goodwill measures to revive talks

Goodwill measures from President Rodrigo Duterte may be the ticket for the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to successfully revive formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Jose Maria Sison said.

Invoking the spirit of yuletide, Sison said reciprocal unilateral ceasefires and the release of elderly and sickly political prisoners are good for the creation of a favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations.

“It is timely for the GRP and NDFP to celebrate with the Filipino people the season of Christmas and the New Year and to create the favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations by undertaking such goodwill measures,” Sison said.

Sison added that those who shall participate in the peace negotiations, obviously referring to jailed NDFP peace consultants, may be among those to be released early. 

The NDFP’s chief political consultant said the obstacles that ended the peace talks may be overcome by another reaffirmation of agreements forged between the parties since 1992.

These agreements, including The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, outline the conduct and conditions of formal peace negotiations between the parties.

Successive GRP administrations, including Duterte’s, have sought to disregard the agreements in a repeated bid to convince NDFP negotiators to agree to hold the talks in the Philippines.

The NDFP, however, has consistently opposed the move as “dangerous”.

Sison said that he welcomes Duterte’s desire to resume the negotiations and instructions to former GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III to visit and consult him in The Netherlands.

He proposes that the NDFP and Bello set the agenda and schedule for the negotiations and to “fulfill political, legal and security requirements.”

He said the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels can pursue further negotiations on the Interim Peace Agreement, with its three components pertaining to coordinated unilateral ceasefires, general amnesty and release of all political prisoners.

The three components had been approved and signed in the presence of Norwegian third-party facilitators after four rounds of backchannel talks in May and June 2018.

Duterte, however, ordered his negotiators to abandon the formal round scheduled for June 28 of that year. 

Sison also urged that the remaining sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and National Industrialization and Economic Development that are still to be tackled be discussed once the talks resume. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte, Esperon preconditions may prevent talks resumption, Sison warns

The resumption of formal peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) may not happen if the Manila government insists it must be held in the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison warned.

Reacting to national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon’s declaration Friday, December 6, that Duterte wants the talks to be held in the country, Sison said the GRP is setting a precondition that is “unacceptable.”

“This precondition is totally unacceptable to the NDFP because it aims to put the NDFP and the entire peace negotiations in the pocket of the Duterte regime and under the control and surveillance of the bloodthirsty military and police who engage in mass murders and other heinous crimes with impunity,” Sison said in a statement Saturday.

Esperon told reporters at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City that the change in venue is a “minimum requirement.”

“Remember that even before the peace talks ceased, the President already said he wanted the venue of the peace talks to be here. So that is the minimum requirement,” Esperon said.

“There will be a declaration of a bilateral ceasefire that’s got rules, too. The NPA can’t be burning up construction equipment. They can’t be going about,” he added.

Sison slammed Esperon’s statements, however, saying the retired general is being “extremely arrogant and insulting” to the NDFP by declaring that it has no choice but to accept the resumption of peace negotiations in the Philippines.

Sison said Esperon issues such statements because he believes his own lie that the government has defeated the armed revolution led by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Such declarations are fake news about fake community support projects, fake surrenders and fake encounters, Sison said.

“Esperon should not try to gain from cheap ephemeral psywar and spoil or sabotage the possibility of resuming the peace negotiations in a foreign neutral venue before the mutual approval of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms,” Sison explained.

“The aforementioned issuances of Duterte prevent peace negotiations anywhere in the universe if these are not overcome and repealed in conjunction with the reaffirmation of all agreements mutually approved by the GRP and NDFP since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992,” he added.

Talks about the possible resumption of the stalled peace negotiations began when Duterte told reporters in Legazpi City last Thursday, December 5, that he is sending former GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III to The Netherlands to talk to Sison.

Bello himself later said that backchannel talks have been ongoing since the GRP walked away from the negotiating table in 2017. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)