Close to a month after the Philippine government and the communist rebels reopened peace negotiations, the unilateral ceasefires declared by both parties appear to be holding with no reports of major clashes and incidents.
Government (GRP) chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre ‘Bebot’ Bello III said he is optimistic a bilateral agreement will be reached and put in place when the second round of peace negotiations is resumed on October 4-10, also in Oslo, Norway.
“It is indicative of the sincerity of both parties in the (peace) process which augurs well for peace,” Bello said of the lull in the fighting.
It can be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte restored a unilateral and indefinite ceasefire on the eve of the formal resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) on August 21 to create a favorable condition for the negotiations.
The NDF in return extended its 7-day goodwill ceasefire (August 21-27) to also declare its own unilateral and indefinite ceasefire when the first round of talks in Oslo ended on August 26.
This indefinite unilateral ceasefire from the NPA is considered “historic and unprecedented.” The NPA said it is inspired by the release of the 22 detained NDF consultants, the most number of prisoners released by the government to date.
In the 30-year history of government peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF, the talks have been disrupted at least 15 times. The breakdown in the talks were mainly due to two issues: the release of detained NDF consultants and declaration of ceasefire. With both issues addressed, the formal resumption of peace talks on August 22-28 in Oslo was made possible.
Ceasefire was one of agenda items taken up by both panels during the Oslo talks.
Both parties agreed to submit drafts for the formal bilateral ceasefire agreement when the negotiations resume in the first week of October.
“Hopefully, this will ripen to a bilateral and permanent ceasefire and finally the end of hostilities,” Bello said.
In close to 50 years of guerrilla war launched by the NDF, through its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA), more than 150,000 people have been killed in armed clashes and violent incidents.
The Philippine military said the NPA has been reduced to less than 4,000 armed regulars scattered all over the Philippine archipelago.
But in Oslo, NDF panel chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni claimed they have 10,000 armed regulars operating in more than 120 guerrilla fronts that cover more than 72 provinces.
The GRP-NDF formal talks are entering the more substantive phase of the peace negotiations with both parties submitting outlines and drafts on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms in the next round.
Both parties will also take up a proposed amnesty proclamation for all listed detained NDF members.
The cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces will also be tackled simultaneously during the talks.
The parties earlier agreed to accelerate the peace process with the government peace panel expressing confidence that a final peace agreement will be signed within a year.
The GRP and NDF panels agreed to move the Oslo second round of talks earlier from the original date of October 8-12 to October 6-10.