Agree on truce, peace talks resumption, group tells gov’t, Reds
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY –– A Mindanao-based group has asked the government and the communist rebels to formalize a reciprocal truce and use the crisis as an opportunity to pursue a negotiated end to the 51-year insurgency.
President Duterte has already imposed a unilateral ceasefire from March 19 to April 15 as the government trains its focus on containing the spread of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which has no known cure yet.
“We welcome this positive development with high hopes that this ceasefire could lead to the resumption of the formal peace negotiation,” said Augusto Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).
Miclat said a reciprocal truce could allow the parties to “refocus their efforts and resources towards a humanitarian response” to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based in Davao City, IID was among the nongovernment actors that played a key role in building international solidarity for an end to the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste.
“We urge both parties to unite in responding more appropriately to the COVID-19 crisis. All forms of emergency response and social protection programs for the people most affected by the virus and the lockdown policy are very much needed,” Miclat added.
The government has placed Luzon and the National Capital Region on a lockdown, suspending the operation of most public transport, and restricting domestic access via land, sea, and air routes.
Crisis as opportunity
The lockdown is expected to temporarily displace thousands of workers.
Miclat said the current health crisis facing the country may yet be an opportunity for the government and the rebels “to pursue in earnest a negotiated political settlement” to end 51 years of communist rebellion, in a similar fashion in Banda Aceh Indonesia in 2004.
A tsunami in December 2004 devastated Banda Aceh, precipitating a truce declaration by separatist rebels. With international help, the gesture graduated into political negotiations that ended in Banda Aceh gaining autonomy.
Miclat noted that during devastating calamities in the country, such as the aftermath of Typhoon “Sendong” in 2011, Typhoon “Pablo” in 2012 and Typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013, ”the humanitarian needs of the people took precedence” in the action of communist rebels.
In 2011, the CPP suspended anniversary rites and, instead, donated the funds to several local governments for disaster relief.
Miclat urged the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), “to consider standing down for humanitarian reasons, while government security forces assist health workers in the frontlines during this period.”
But Miclat also cautioned the military against using the delivery of humanitarian aid for snooping on the rebels.
Miclat reminded that the COVID-19 crisis “is the people’s common problem right now.”
“It is a specter that haunts the world and the whole of humanity. Any failure to appropriately respond to this crisis could spell more danger for the people, especially for those already marginalized, ignored, and disenfranchised due to the system that breeds and tolerates social inequalities and injustices.”
“While the ceasefire is necessary to create a safe space for immediate humanitarian response and a window for de-escalation of the violence, the steps that the government is currently taking leave much to be wary about,” Miclat noted.
Miclat explained that a virus-containment strategy that lacks immediate and comprehensive programs on social protection for the daily wage-earners and the poor “will exacerbate the inequalities and insecurity which underpin this armed conflict (and) in turn … undermine the peace process post-pandemic.”
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