Mindanao groups welcome proposed Christmas ceasefire
DAVAO CITY – Peace groups in Mindanao welcomed the proposed Christmas season ceasefire agreed upon by negotiators of the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Bert Calang of InPeace Mindanao said a ceasefire builds confidence among the parties towards resuming stalled peace talks.
Balay Mindanaw, in a statement, said the ceasefire proposal is “a very positive step” that augurs well for reviving the peace negotiations.
Calang and Balay Mindanaw are hopeful that the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) will take heed and issue ceasefire orders.
In a one-page joint statement sent to the Inquirer, the government and NDF peace panels agreed to “recommend to their respective Principals the issuance of unilateral and reciprocal nationwide ceasefires.”
The consensus was reached by the parties during a special meeting between NDF executives and a team from the government led by Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III upon orders of President Duterte.
The statement was signed by Bello and former Agrarian Reform secretary Hernani Braganza for the government, and Luis Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoilli for the NDF.
It was also signed by Kristina Lie Revheim who is the Third Party Facilitator from the Royal Norwegian Government.
A source said that traditionally, it is government that first issues a ceasefire declaration, to be reciprocated by the NDF.
Hence, government’s view on the joint statement was expected since Saturday night.
The proposed ceasefire is from midnight of December 23, 2019 to 11:59 p.m. on January 7, 2020.
“The Parties shall separately issue the corresponding ceasefire orders. During the ceasefire period, the respective armed units and personnel of the Parties shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the other,” the statement said.
Both parties added that the unilateral and reciprocal nationwide ceasefires intend to “generate a positive environment conducive to the holding of informal talks.”
The informal talks, the parties agreed, are preparatory for the formal meeting to resume the stalled peace negotiations.
“These shall be measures of goodwill and confidence building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays,” the statement concluded.
The statement was signed on December 21, the result of a backchannel meeting with the NDF peace panel in The Netherlands.
Last Thursday, at least 131 members of the House of Representatives pushed for the resumption of the negotiations through Resolution No. 636.
The 131 House members said that they are “duty bound to express the sentiments and interests” of their constituents for the immediate resumption of the negotiations that will “forge substantive agreements that will resolve the root causes” of the conflict.
Duterte divulged last December 5 that he instructed Bello to meet with the NDF in what he described as his “last card” in achieving peace because his “time is running out.”
Agcaoili earlier said they welcome the gesture of the government to resume the talks.
Bello used to head the government peace panel, composed of Braganza, Rene Sarmiento, Antonio Arellano and Angela Librado before it was officially disbanded by Duterte in March this year.
It was a decision that was expected after Duterte opted to leave the negotiating table after a series of serious and painful disagreements with the other party in 2017.
The most notable falling out was caused by the declaration of martial law in Mindanao in May 23, 2017 following the violent clashes in Marawi City between government forces and Islamic State-linked militants.
There was confusion on whether or not the NPA then was a target of the implementation of martial law.
After a brief statement from the Department of National Defense including communist guerrillas as targets, the NPA directed its forces to attack military units implementing Martial Law in Mindanao.
On May 25, 2017, in what was supposed to be the opening of the 5th round of talks, the government announced its non-participation.
Both negotiating panels made efforts to resuscitate the formal negotiations but it never happened until Duterte declared the CPP and NPA as “terrorist organizations” through Proclamation 374 in December 2017.
In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order 70 creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
After a backchannel negotiation in June last year, a Stand Down Agreement and the Guidelines and Procedures Towards an Interim Peace Agreement were initially signed by both parties but were all scrapped by the government after its panel returned home.
It is still unclear why the two documents were discarded by the Palace.
Before the talks collapsed in 2017, the two parties agreed on several essential points in the four productive rounds of negotiations.
The gains, Agcaoili earlier said, include tentative agreements on the specific sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms like the free distribution of land as a basic principle for agrarian reform.
In 1992, the government and the NDF agreed to tackle four substantive agenda that are designed to address the root causes of the decades-old conflict – respect of human rights and the International Humanitarian Law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
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