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Ceasefire ends ‘successfully’, but no extension

The reciprocal unilateral ceasefire agreement between the government and the communist rebels ended without further incident at midnight last night, but Jose Maria Sison thinks there is no reason to extend the truce at this point.

Sison, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant, expressed disappointment that despite the ceasefire’s success, the Rodrigo Duterte government did not release a single political prisoner in the last two weeks to further bolster chances of resuming formal peace negotiations between the parties.

“There is no reason for the NDFP to recommend to the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) the extension of the ceasefire, especially because GRP did not release a single political prisoner who is sickly, elderly or NDFP consultant in the entire period of the ceasefire agreement,” Sison told Kodao in an online interview.

Sison said the holiday truce between the CPP and the government had been successful nationwide “despite some two incidents of self-defense by the New People’s Army (NPA) before the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) submitted its SOMO (Suspension of Military Operations) and SOPO (Suspension of Police Operations) to the NDFP belatedly on December 26.”

Sison was referring to the separate ambuscades undertaken by the NPA in Camarines Norte and Iloilo provinces that killed one police officer and injured several others on the morning of December 23 on the day the ceasefire agreement was supposed to take effect.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) admitted its troops were on combat operations on both occasions but claimed they were in the process of pulling out when waylaid by the communist guerrillas.

On the other hand, government soldiers belonging to the 401st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army “swarmed” a village in Bacuag, Surigao del Sur last December 30, causing the NPA to cancel its celebration of the CPP’s 51st founding anniversary and mass wedding of its members.

Sison said the troop movement was offensive, provocative to the NPA, disturbing to the community and was, therefore, a violation of the ceasefire.

Despite the general success of the nearly two-week truce, however, Sison revealed there is no further agreement between the two parties to extend the ceasefire agreement.

“Instead, what the NDFP is getting from the GRP side are the warmongering statements of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP officials announcing offensives and insisting on fake localized peace talks staged by AFP military officers for racketeering,” Sison said.

Sison was referring to the 9th Infantry Division-Philippine Army’s claim that 306 alleged NPA members surrendered last December 26 on the occasion of the CPP’s 51st founding anniversary that immediately backfired when netizens pointed out that photographs released by the Philippine Army purportedly showing the surrenderers were faked.

The AFP later admitted to the fakery.

Sources in the backchannel talks between government representatives and the NDFP said labor secretary Silvestre Bello III is expected in The Netherlands in the third week of the month for another “informal talk” aimed as preparatory to a formal meeting for the resumption of formal peace negotiations. # (Raymund B. Villanueva) 

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) 

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)

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)

Suaybaguio’s arrest another obstacle to peace talks resumption–NDFP

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) condemned the arrest of another of its peace consultant Monday, calling it “another obstacle to peace.”

“The Duterte regime remains on a fascist rampage that adds more and more obstacles to the resumption of the peace negotiations with the NDFP,” its negotiating panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said.

In a statement, Agcaoili said Esterlita Suaybaguio, arrested by police operatives in an apartment building in Quezon City Monday, August 26, is covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with Document of Identification (DI) Number ND 978447 as second consultant for Mindanao.

Under JASIG, peace consultants and staff from both the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) enjoy “immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement and participation in the peace negotiations.”

“A copy of her DI is deposited in the safety deposit box under the name of Archbishop Joris A.O.L. Vercammen,” Agcaoili said. Vercammen belongs to The Old Catholic Church of The Netherlands.

In July 12, 2017, former government peace negotiators Hernani Braganza and Angela L. Trinidad and Philippine Ambassador to The Netherlands Jamie Ledda witnessed the consignment of the NDFP list with Vercammen.

In July 2017, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said that then GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III issued Letters of Authority (LA) to the JASIG-covered rebel consultants they could present to police authorities and military in case they are held or arrested.

The Philippine National Police said they confiscated a handgun, bullets and grenade from Suaybaguio’s apartment, an offense it charged all other arrested NDFP peace consultants and staff with since the GRP walked away from the peace negotiations in June 2017.

“Instead of promoting just peace, the Duterte regime and its military even send psywar (psychological warfare) and spy teams in schools and communities and even abroad to muddle the facts about the peace talks, sow disinformation on activist organizations and NGOs, and hide the widespread extrajudicial killings and rampant human rights violations in the country,” Agcaoili said.

“The NDFP Negotiating Panel calls for the immediate release of Suaybaguio and the dropping of false charges against her, as well as the scores of other detained NDFP consultants and personnel,” Agcaoili added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Joma says no back channel talks with Andal

National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison clarified that he was not informed of any planned backchannel talks with any representative of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Asked to confirm Movie and Television Review and Classification Board member Avelino Andal’s claim he was tapped by Duterte to open backchannel talks with the NDFP, Sison told Kodao that he has yet to talk to Andal.

“He has not approached anyone of us in Utrecht,” Sison said.

Newspapers reported Tuesday that Andal claimed he was ordered by Duterte to talk to Sison to try to revive the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) .

“Actually, napag-utusan ang inyong lingkod, utos mula sa Presidente kung maari i-resume ang pag-uusap sapagkat ang kanyang pinagdidiinan bilang Presidente, siya ay kaibigan at ‘di kaaway ng sinuman, kabilang na rebelde,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Andal in its report. (I was ordered by the President if the talks could be resumed because he is resolute that he is a friend, not an enemy, to everyone, including the rebels.)

Andal reportedly claimed he already sent “feelers” to the communist rebels, who were “extremely glad” of the President’s move.

Palace officials were quick to deny Andal’s claim, however.

‘Fake news’

In a Philippine News Agency report yesterday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described Andal’s claim as “fake news.”

“The President says he never ordered him to do so,” Lorenzana reportedly said.

Former Presidential aide Christopher Go for his part said Duterte did not order Andal to talk to Sison.

“Look, everybody is talking. So [I have] no instruction on Andal about back channeling,” Go quoted Duterte as saying in a phone interview.

In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo neither confirmed nor denied reports that Duterte has ordered Andal to lead the backdoor talks with Sison.

“I do not think so. He (Andal) is not involved in the negotiation process. Members of the panel would be (Labor) Secretary (Silvestre) Bello, he’s one of them,” Panelo said.

‘Only the GRP panel’

Sison said he believes the statements of Duterte and Lorenzana that the President did not order Andal to open back channel talks with him and others in Utrecht.

“Andal himself has admitted that he wished to do back channel talks in his private capacity,” Sison clarified.

He added that he is not sure if he remembers Andal.

Sison said that as far as the NDFP Negotiating Panel is concerned, it continues to recognize as its counterpart the GRP Negotiating Panel under the chairmanship of Silvestre (Bebot) Bello III.

“[The NDFP] has not been informed by the GRP of any change of representation that is different from the panel headed by Bello,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Not surprised,’ KMU says of Duterte’s turnaround on endo promise

Militant labor denounced Rodrigo Duterte’s decision not to issue an order ending contractualization of workers, saying the President’s move is a complete turnaround from his repeated promise to end the practice.

Following labor secretary Silvestre Bello III’s announcement Thursday that Duterte decided to leave it to Congress to decide on labor-only contracting, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairperson Elmer Labog said the government is bent on maintaining the status quo in the labor sector.

“Duterte wants contractual labor to remain the norm while regular employment is just the exemption,” Labog told Kodao.

“He sweet-talked us for such a long time, but it all comes to nothing,” Labog added.

In a statement, Kilusang Mayo Uno said it was Duterte himself in a dialogue last May 1, 2017 who asked the labor sector to draft an EO that he would immediately sign.

“However, like his other promises and pretensions, Duterte refused to deliver. This further proves that his tough-talk against contractualization was a mere publicity stunt to woo workers’ votes like all other traditional politicians,” KMU said.

In his press briefing, Bello said three drafts of the executive order were submitted to the Office of the President through the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Bello said Malacañan however ultimately decided to instead certify as priority a Senate bill on the security of tenure of workers.

Earlier, the Palace announced that Duterte will finally issue an order to end contractualization, or non-regularization of workers. It later said Malacañan decided to postpone Duterte’s signing of the order last April 15.

No order was signed and issued last Sunday, however.

In justifying Duterte’s decision, Bello said the Senate bill is a reinforcement of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Department Order 174 meant to address the issue of unlawful contractualization anyway.

Bello said the DOLE order and the Senate bill may end contractualization “if there is an effective and honest-to-goodness implementation.”

Labog, however, said militant labor has no illusions about the prospective anti-contractualization law.

Wala na iyan. Lututuin lang iyan sa Kongreso,” Labog said. (That’s nothing. It will just be mangled in Congress.)

Labog warned that more workers would be disappointed and angry at Duterte.

“It will not only be KMU who gets angry with Duterte, but all the other workers who are victims of contractualization,” Labog said.

Labog added KMU’s International Labor Day activities will start at nine o’clock in the morning at Liwasang Bonifacio.

“Our main sectoral call is, of course, for the junking of contractualization,” Labog said.

KMU said Duterte’s mockery of Filipino workers and of our legitimate demands will never be forgiven.

“On May 1, International Labor Day, hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers across the country will show their outrage over Duterte’s rejection of our demands for regular and decent jobs in a nationwide workers’ and people’s protest,” KMU’s statement said.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)