John Matthew Cruz
THE Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panels on Wednesday finally agreed to declare a joint interim ceasefire, a key demand of President Rodrigo Duterte.
This was confirmed by Malacañang through a photo released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
The agreement, signed 9 p.m. Manila time, is an interim one to distinguish it from the “ultimate laying down of arms” once both sides reach a final peace agreement, OPAPP director John Raña said.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier scrapped the peace negotiations with the NDF after attacks on soldiers by the communist armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), which ended its unilateral ceasefire with government last February.
Peace negotiations were however revived following successful back-channel talks.
In remarks before the national convention of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines in Pampanga on Wednesday, Duterte bared that communist rebels have promised to release four remaining prisoners in their custody, another key demand.
He said Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd confirmed this by phone on Wednesday.
“[I want them to] release all prisoners. They said, in the next two days,” the President said.
Duterte said he also told Dureza and Bello to invite aging Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader Jose Ma. Sison to come home to the Philippines.
“Dureza and Bello called me. They gave me updates. I said, ‘You tell Sison, because he’s sick, he can come home. I’ll give him freedom of movement. I will not arrest him. I’ll even pay for his hospitalization if he wants,’” he said.
Sison has been in asylum in the Netherlands since he left the Philippines in 1987 after the fall of the Marcos regime.
Duterte also reiterated two other demands – a stop to the collection of “revolutionary tax” and claiming any territory.
On February 19, the CPP ordered the NPA to accelerate the release of six government men captured by rebels, hoping it would help create a better atmosphere to resume talks.
“As a positive gesture, the Party calls on all concerned NPA units to expedite the release of the six prisoners of war (POWs) captured over the past days. The NPA commands in charge of the custodial units can work closely with third-party facilitators,” the CPP earlier said.
The communist group, however, said that it would be difficult for them to facilitate the release unless the government would declare a Suspension of Military Operations and a Suspension of Police Operations.
In a separate statement, the NDF confirmed that the CPP’s statement directing the concerned NPA units to expedite the release of the six captured POWs still in their custody, as a “positive gesture” for the resumption of peace talks.
Two militiamen – Rene Doller and Carl Mark Nucos – were released in Mati City, Davao Oriental last March 25.
Still in captivity are Private Edwin Salan, who was nabbed in Alegria, Surigao del Norte; Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pvt. Samuel Garay, who were captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat; and Police Officer 2 Jerome Natividad who was snatched in Talakag, Bukidnon.
“Despite the difficult circumstances, the NDF and the respective NPA commands continue to work closely with the members of the Third Party Facilitators and Independent Humanitarian Mission for the release of the remaining four POWs,” the CPP said.
The CPP wants the police and the military to stop operations specifically in Bukidnon, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato.