Gov’t, Reds urged: Don’t abandon talks
Give peace another chance was the cry of various sectors after President Duterte scrapped peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Elders, retired professionals, Church men and peace advocates from the Cordillera and Cagayan Valley have urged the government and the NDFP to agree on a bilateral ceasefire and to continue their talks, saying, “we have already seen so much bloodshed in our lifetime.”
“We are afraid of innocent civilians being caught in the crossfire between the government and rebel forces,” the network said in a statement. The conflict has killed at least 40,000 people since it began 47 years ago.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also voiced hope that the Duterte administration and the NDFP would continue to find reasonable compromises to pursue peace, and “not succumb to violence.”
The government and the NDFP discussed a bilateral ceasefire during the third round of talks in Rome last month. The communist New People’s Army (NPA), however, announced that it would lift its ceasefire on Feb. 10 following disagreements on the release of 400 political prisoners. It also accused the government of moving troops into territories it held.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration to end the peace talks came a few hours after he lifted his administration’s six-month unilateral ceasefire.
He said he ended the ceasefire ahead of the scheduled lifting of the truce by the rebels because soldiers had died in NPA attacks.
Return of terror
A priest said the collapse of the talks would again bring terror to the poor in the countryside.
Fr. Pete Montallana appealed to the communist leadership and Mr. Duterte to work things out, saying clashes between government forces and communist rebels had caused fear and hunger among Agta-Dumagat tribe in the Sierra Madre.
Msgr. Meliton Oso, executive director of the Jaro Archdiocese Social Action Center, said the talks must continue “in order to thresh out differences and resolve the roots of the armed conflict until an agreement is reached.”
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto urged the two parties to pull back from the brink of reigniting the conflict.
“It is never too late to give peace another chance. In the search for a settlement, one must never tire of negotiation-fatigue,” he said in a statement.
For his part, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the President was not totally closing the door to peace talks with communist rebels, noting that Mr. Duterte said he would reopen it if there was “compelling reason” to do so.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also urged Mr. Duterte to reconsider his decision to scuttle the talks.
Deal still possible
Signing a peace deal with the rebels was still possible, a Palace official said on Sunday.
A presidential communications assistant secretary, Marie Banaag, said the government panel, led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, would still pursue “permanent peace and how to go about the parameters of going through a permanent ceasefire.”
“Malacañang is still open to negotiations,” Banaag said on state radio dzRB.
An Iloilo-based NDFP consultant, Maria Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, said her group was not closing the door on the talks.
“We want the negotiations to continue even without a ceasefire because this has been done in the past and had not prevented the talks to advance,” she said.
Lifting the ceasefire was not a reason to suspend the talks, said another NDFP consultant. Randy Malayao said that despite the absence of any ceasefire orders during the Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino administrations, several important agreements and documents were signed.
At the closing ceremony of the talks in Rome on Jan. 25, Norway’s special envoy Elisabeth Slattum said setbacks like clashes were expected.
“I have yet to witness a peace process where there have not ever been ups and downs, a peace process that has not been messy, where there haven’t been any clashes on the ground or violations of ceasefire or publicly expressed frustration,” Slattum said. —REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, VINCENT CABREZA, VINCE F. NONATO, DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., NESTOR P. BURGOS AND KARLOS MANLUPIG