Lack of truce blamed for failure of talks with communists

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Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. PHOTO FROM OPAPP.GOV.PH

DIGOS CITY, Philippines—The lack of a ceasefire agreement between the government and communist rebels was the main stumbling block to the peace negotiations, said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, who chairs the government panel in the talks with Moro rebels.

In a statement posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Coronel said a ceasefire was an “important feature” of successful peace negotiations.

The government recently announced the collapse of peace talks with the communist National Democratic Front brokered by Norway. Malacañang cited the absence of a ceasefire.

On the other hand, talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were doing well because of an existing agreement on cessation of hostilities, she said.

The statement was posted after Coronel and Alex Padilla, the chief negotiator with the National Democratic Front, faced the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) in Manila on Monday.

The MILF signed late last year a preliminary peace agreement with the government, which included the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro homeland. Government and rebel negotiators are currently only fine-tuning the details of the talks, such as defining some provisions, Coronel said.

“One obvious difference is that there is no ceasefire with the NDF whereas the GPH-MILF ceasefire has long been in place,” Coronel said.

“We’ve had zero skirmishes between GPH and MILF forces since January 2012 (because of the ceasefire). Only a few untoward incidents took place before that, all of which were eventually settled,” she added.

Coronel said the role of a ceasefire in peace negotiations “cannot be underestimated.”

She said it was a fact that the government and the NDF on special occasions or during natural disasters issued ceasefire declarations on their own, but these were not enough to push the talks forward.

“(These were) mere crumbs being thrown at the peace table, so to speak,” Coronel added.

She said a ceasefire, such as in the case of the talks with the MILF, “provided a good environment to talk peace, build confidence and trust, and lessen incidents of human rights and humanitarian law violations.”

“(The ceasefire also) allow(ed) a good measure of normalcy in the lives of the people in the affected communities,” Coronel said.

She said she was not speaking without basis as the MILF has been “solid and manifest.”

“Other than preventing and addressing untoward incidents, our ceasefire mechanisms have contributed to the process in several other ways,” Coronel said. These include, she said, cooperation between government security forces and rebels during the February launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro in Maguindanao, which ensured that the visits of President Aquino and his Cabinet were secured.

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