Talks opening to be delayed by a few hours

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands—The opening ceremony of the fourth round of formal negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) will be delayed by at least several hours.

In a chance interview, NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said the parties have yet to agree on the agenda as they are still waiting for the arrival of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza from London.

Dureza attended an international forum on the Colombian peace process yesterday.

GRP Negotiating Panel member Hernani Braganza said Dureza has arrived at this seaside town late last night.

Representatives of both panels are scheduled to meet at eight o’clock this morning (two o’clock in the afternoon, Philippine time) to set the agenda for this round of talks.

The Noordwijk talks are expected to focus on the continuation of socio-economic reforms and the proposed bilateral ceasefire agreement.

GRP Negotiating Panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III earlier announced President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed them to forge a ceasefire agreement by the end of the round.

“Our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello said in a Palace press briefing last Friday.

“Talking while fighting”

For the first time under the Duterte government, the GRP-NDFP formal talks would be held without a ceasefire in place.

In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) confirmed it did not push through with its plan to reinstate its unilateral ceasefire declaration after the GRP “refused to reciprocate.”

“The CPP did not proceed to issue a declaration of interim ceasefire yesterday, after the GRP announced that it will not issue a similar ceasefire declaration,” it said.

“The issuance of ceasefire declarations was supposed to be done reciprocally as agreed upon by the NDFP and GRP in their March 11 Joint Statement,” the CPP added.

The CPP said it can only be surmised Duterte heeded the advice of his national security and military officials against issuing a reciprocal ceasefire declaration after announcing he first needed to consult them.

Despite Duterte’s decision to resume formal peace negotiations with the NDFP, however, GRP Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday branded the New People’s Army as “thugs,” “terrorists” and “extortionists” anew.

“We stand by the President’s decision to resume the peace process but we likewise should call on the communists to show their commitment both in words and in deeds,” Lorenzana in a statement said.

Lorenzana complained about the recent clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the NPA.

Intensified AFP attacks against civilians

The CPP however said it is the AFP which is carrying out intensified “fascist crimes against civilians.”

In a statement, the CPP reported the forced evacuation of 36 families (187 individuals) to Cagayan de Oro after 100 soldiers of the 58th IB encamped in the Lumad community of Sitio Camansi, Barangay Banglay, Lagonglong town, Misamis Oriental last March 29.

On March 30, elements of the 9th ID strafed several people who were at a waiting shed in Sitio Traktora, Bagong Silang, Sipocot, Camarines Sur, killing Renel Mirabeles and severely injuring Joseph Sagario and Regie Loprandado.  The GRP soldiers also accosted Erick Madrona, accusing him of being an NPA fighter.  The AFP tried to cover up its attacks on the civilians as an encounter with the NPA, the CPP said.

Also on March 30, elements of the 203rd Infantry Brigade aerial-bombed sitios Karumata and Kalungbuyan, in Barangay Benli, Bulalacao town, Oriental Mindoro and terrorizing Hanunuo Mangyan communities in the area, the CPP added.

On the same day, soldiers of the 28th and 66th IB killed Jeffry Santos, a peasant resident of Tagbinonga, Mati City, Davao Oriental.  Santos was on his way to the town center to sell copra when he was waylaid by AFP soldiers claiming he was an NPA member.  Santos’ family denies the AFP’s accusation, the CPP reported.

The CPP said it is duty-bound to defend civilians even while it looks forward to fruitful NDFP-GRP negotiations towards forging an agreement on socio-economic reforms as well as political and constitutional reforms.

“The CPP anticipates that the question of free land distribution to the tillers, the most pressing social justice issue in the country, will be fully addressed in the talks,” it said.

“The CPP also anticipates intense discussions and debates on the people’s demand for national industrialization, as well as expansion of public services, versus the insistence of the GRP to pursue the neoliberal policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)