Fourth round of talks opens with no signed truce
DAVAO CITY – The fourth round of talks opened without the signing of a bilateral ceasefire between the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panels.
The bilateral ceasefire was one of four conditions set by President Rodrigo Duterte.
But both panels seemed determined to pursue the peace process as they made a consensus to discuss and possibly sign an interim ceasefire agreement by April 6.
NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, during the opening ceremony of the fourth round of talks in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, expressed the willingness of the NDFP for a bilateral ceasefire agreement but said that for now, both parties can reinstate the unilateral ceasefire as an interim ceasefire agreement.
NDFP peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili, on the other hand, said the memorandum of understanding for the interim ceasefire can be signed at the end of the fourth round of talks.
Agcaoili said the main purpose of a ceasefire, regardless of its form, is to create conditions for conflicting parties to reach agreements that are satisfactory to both sides.
For Sison, the bilateral ceasefire agreement can be consequently signed after the inking of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, which is considered as the heart and soul of the peace process.
Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said it was the farthest achievement reached in the negotiations that he was confident that it would move forward significantly despite the challenges.
“Let us all together stay the course,” Dureza said.
Despite the differences, both parties are expected not to waver and to find common ground in the diversity, said Labor Secretary and government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III.
Bello also welcomed the openness of the NDFP on a bilateral ceasefire agreement and a joint interim ceasefire that will accompany the negotiations.
In his speech at the military’s Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City on Sunday, President Duterte set four preconditions before the fourth round of talks could proceed.
The preconditions include the release of soldiers and cops captured by the New People’s Army; an end on the collection of revolutionary tax; and for the NDF to quit claiming territories.
But the heaviest among his demands was for both parties to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement before they could proceed in the fourth round of talks.
The bilateral ceasefire was part of the agenda earlier agreed by both parties for the fourth round of talks, which should have started on Sunday morning but was moved to Monday after Duterte made a phone call for his final directives.
The opening ceremony was pushed to a later schedule to the morning of April 3 after the parties asked for backchannel discussions including separate meetings of both panels.
Sources said that there have been no termination of the peace process, the issues raised by Duterte especially the bilateral ceasefire could have been addressed or discussed by now.
In the joint statement of the third round of talks, both parties agreed to meet again for a panel to panel meeting in the Netherlands on February 22 to discuss the details for a bilateral ceasefire.
This was a response after the government presented a proposed bilateral ceasefire agreement to the NDFP, which the communists vowed to seriously consider.
If the February meeting proceeded, a mutually-agreed draft of the bilateral ceasefire agreement could have been presented and possibly signed before or during the fourth round of talks.
The original plan, however, was scrapped after Duterte terminated the negotiations following the withdrawal of the NPA of its unilateral ceasefire declaration.
The NPA decided to terminate its ceasefire because of government’s alleged failure to release political prisoners and the continuing presence of government forces in the communities.
After the withdrawal of ceasefire declarations, numerous armed hostilities have been reported leaving many combatants and civilians either dead or wounded.
But a backchannel meeting between the two negotiating panels in Utrecht in March provided a glimmer of hope for the peace process.
In a joint statement issued after the backchannel meeting, both panels agreed to resume the negotiations as scheduled and to reaffirm the previously signed agreements.
The parties also agreed to reinstate their indefinite unilateral ceasefire declarations before the scheduled fourth round of talks to help create a better atmosphere for the resumption of the stalled
Along with this was a consensus to draft and sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement to replace the unilateral ceasefire and create better mechanisms to avoid hostilities on the ground.
“The Parties agree to forge an interim bilateral ceasefire agreement which shall take effect after the terms of reference and other considerations shall have been settled,” the March joint statement said.
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