A halt to hostilities between government troops and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) ahead of an interim peace agreement and a formal ceasefire could start as early as next week, according to Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria Sison.
“We are hoping that back-channel talks will be successful so we can start the ceasefire in its initial form as stand-down agreement starting June 14,” Sison, who is living in exile in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said in an online interview with the Inquirer on Wednesday.
‘A few kinks’
The two sides will resume formal talks brokered by the Norwegian government before the end of the month, he added.
Asked about the status of the ongoing informal talks, Sison said there were “only a few kinks to iron out, while so many issues have been resolved.”
President Rodrigo Duterte’s peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, declined to comment on details of the back-channel talks.
“Back-channel talks are discreet so [I] cannot disclose,” Dureza told the Inquirer in a text message. “Announcements will be done when formal talks resume.”
Sison, the chief political consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in peace talks with the Philippine government, said the two negotiating panels recommended the implementation of the stand-down agreement to their respective principals — the NDFP-CPP-NPA and the President.
Sison earlier said the stand-down agreement, which would require both sides to suspend offensive operations against each other, was “meant to stimulate the atmosphere for peace negotiation two weeks before the resumption of the peace talks.”
It would “glide to the coordinated unilateral ceasefires under a joint monitoring committee and with more elaborate terms to ensure the stability of ceasefire,” he said.
The coordinated unilateral ceasefires will be accompanied by an amnesty proclamation and the signing of an accord on agrarian reform and rural development, and a separate one on national industrialization and economic development, which are parts of the broader Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, Sison said on Wednesday.
He said the signing of the interim peace agreement (IPA) would soon follow the resumption of formal peace talks set for June 28.
The IPA will pave the way for a formal ceasefire between the military and NPA for the duration of the formal talks.
The President had promised to end the nearly 50-year Maoist insurgency, which has killed more than 40,000 people, by finding a political solution, but he abandoned the peace efforts last November, complaining of repeated rebel attacks.
His administration later petitioned a court to declare the CPP and the NPA terrorist organizations. It also sought to declare about 600 people, including about two dozen rebel consultants in the talks, terrorists.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has said the government may ask the court to put its petition on hold if the talks resumed.
If a final peace agreement is signed, the petition could be withdrawn, Roque added.
Sison said that while the stand-down agreement had not been signed, government and rebel forces could still launch offensives.
On Monday night, an Army soldier was killed while two others were wounded after a land mine planted by communist guerrillas exploded in Lopez, Quezon province.
The next day, a police officer was killed while nine others were wounded in an attack by suspected NPA rebels in Sagada town, Mountain Province.
‘Ready to cooperate’
Sison assured the President early this week that communist rebels were ready to cooperate with his administration for the talks to succeed.
He said the NDFP was “always ready to reciprocate whatever good move he [the President] makes in the peace negotiations.”
“The NDFP can also initiate good moves that are beneficial to the people,” he added.
Sison said the NDFP wanted six other consultants — Benito Tiamzon, Rafael Baylosis, Alan Jazmines, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Randall Echanis — to again participate in the formal negotiations in the Netherlands.
Baylosis was rearrested shortly after the talks were suspended and the five others were being hunted by security authorities because their bail bonds had been canceled.
“If the six NDFP consultants are not allowed to participate in the peace negotiations, there would be no basis to hope or believe that there would be an amnesty and the release of all political prisoners,” Sison said. —With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade
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