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Gov't, Reds resume peace talks as Duterte sets terms for truce

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TAGAYTAY CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed the government peace panel to produce a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as both panels resume talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands even as he set four conditions before the government agrees to sign a bilateral ceasefire.


Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte has instructed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to reiterate the terms for a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).


Abella, quoting OPAPP Undersecretary Nabil Tan, listed the terms set for the bilateral ceasefire:

1 There should be clear parameters or Terms of Reference for the ceasefire;

2.The government shall not recognize any territorial claims of the CPP-NPA-NDF;

3. The CPP-NPA-NDF should cease the collection of revolutionary taxes and the conduct of extortion and extraction activities and arson;

4. The CPP-NPA-NDF shall release all prisoners.


Duterte had previously mentioned these terms, saying these are some of the reasons he lifted the unilateral ceasefire and cancelled the peace talks last February.


However, Duterte explained last week that he is willing to let go of his ego and talk to the rebels in another attempt to have peace in the country.


“At least I have complied with my promise. We are talking to everybody. The traditional enemies of the state, they are talking with us,” he said in a speech in Malacañang last Thursday.

Meanwhile, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has urged businesses not to give in to the extortion rackets of the New People's Army (NPA), following a series of NPA attacks against companies that refuse to give in to their demands.


"I, therefore, call upon all peace-loving Filipinos to resist these thugs, these terrorists who have brought nothing but misery to the Filipino people in the past 48 years. Let us resist their extortions because giving in will make them strong and perpetuate their criminal acts," he said in a statement.


"Fellow Filipinos, in the past weeks, the Communist Terrorists who call themselves the New People's Army went on a rampage, burning equipment and properties of companies that refuse to succumb to their extortions. They do these to companies that build roads, export produce, transport people -- activities that help generate employment and wealth for Filipinos," Lorenzana stressed.


By committing these atrocities, the NPAs have shown themselves to be anti-progress and anti-poor, the defense chief added.


"We at the Department of National Defense share in the vision of President Rodrigo Duterte of building a nation worthy of Filipinos and Filipinos worthy of a nation. The path to real, lasting peace is indeed not without its struggles, thus it is important that we stay committed to this goal, and to let our actions reflect our intentions," he said.


The series of unprovoked attacks against military and civilian targets last February prompted the government to suspend its peace talks and ceasefire with the rebels.


Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the panel received instructions from the President during their meeting in Davao City. Also present in the meeting was Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.


Bello said there will be no unilateral declaration of ceasefire on the part of the government prior to the holding of the 4th round of talks. Bello stressed that the bilateral ceasefire issue is first on the agenda of the negotiations.


Bello said the government panel composed of lawyers Angela Librado, Antonio Arellano and Rene Sarmiento and Hernani Braganza are prepared to hold the next talks with the NDFP.


Amid the increasing offensive attacks by the New People's Army (NPA) rebels especially in Bukidnon, Agusan and Davao areas, Bello said the government panel will continue to be steadfast in their efforts and resolute in putting a closure to the armed conflict.


“We owe this to our people. Our millennials deserve it,” Bello said in a press briefing in Malacanang aired live on television.


Bello is hoping they would arrive at a consensus on the bilateral ceasefire to end the hostilities on the ground.


“We expect the discussion in this round of talks to be very, very, very difficult and exacting but we shall be persistent in advancing the cause of peace as inspired by our President’s determination to unite our people,” Bello said.


It can be recalled that during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy, the GRP panel already gave the NDFP the draft bilateral ceasefire agreement, which the NDFP panel agreed to review.


Bello said part of the discussion are sensitive issues including the definition of buffer zones, the definition of the collection of revolutionary tax, the choice of referee.


“We were for a while under the impression that our third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, would be willing to be the referee,” Bello said.


Both panels would have discussed the draft bilateral ceasefire last February but this was stalled after Duterte decided to pull out the government panel.


The President’s decision came on the heels of the announcement of the NPA in Mindanao to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declared in August. The termination of the unilateral ceasefires by both sides resulted to a number of clashes between the NPA and government troops.


Given the setbacks, Bello underscored President Duterte’s efforts and initiatives to achieve an inclusive and lasting peace in the country.


Following the announcement of the Communist Party of the Philippines on their intention to declare a unilateral ceasefire before the 4th round of talks, Bello said the President wants the bilateral ceasefire agreement signed.


“I think we should concentrate more on this (bilateral ceasefire) more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” he pointed out.

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