By Elmer Navarro Manuel and Mario J. Mallari
“If there will be a ceasefire agreement, it should be bilateral not one-sided, not only suspension of military and police operations.”
The peace process between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) stalled anew yesterday as the stand down agreement that the government was supposed to announce with Maoist rebels simultaneously was delayed for a week.
The delay, according to CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, was to allow government to ensure the participation of several consultants in the peace talks, and that most of these consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are expected to get clearance before Friday in time for the talks.
“The stand down will begin on June 21, a full week ahead of the June 28 resumption of formal talks in Oslo,” said Sison in a television interview.
Both sides were initially set to announce a stand-down deal today, two weeks ahead of formal negotiations but Sison, who joined backchannel talks in The Netherlands last week, said the government sought the new schedule “to have more time for effecting the release” of six NDFP consultants.
The consultants include Rafael Baylosis, who was detained earlier this year after negotiations bogged down; Benito Tiamzon, Adel Silva, Alan Jazmines, Randal Echanis and Vicente Ladlad.
Ladlad and four others have to secure clearance as they could also be arrested since their bail was cancelled in connection with a government petition with the court to tag the CPP and its armed wing as terrorist organizations.
Consultants needed for ‘polishing’ work
Sison stressed that consultants were “needed for the polishing” of the coordinated unilateral ceasefire deal which will form part of the interim peace agreement to be signed on June 28.
The CPP founder narrated that the two sides would spend June 15 to 18 to “polish” the two other components of the interim accord which include agreements on agrarian reform and the nationalization of certain industries.
“The stand-down agreement precludes government forces and the rebels from committing any offensive action or operation against combatants and civilians,” Sison said.
Also in the deal was the provision that both sides will also “stay where they are” and “take an active defense mode,” and the agreement will then be replaced by a clearer and more binding coordinated unilateral ceasefire deal once formal talks resumed.
Mr. Duterte also invited Sison to return home and take part in the resumption of the peace talks. Duterte then had a change of heart to give the talks another chance.
The police and military leaderships also vowed to support fully the stand-down agreement but stressed the CPP-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) should abide by the pact.
Ceasefire should be bilateral
“If that will bring peace to our country then why not,” Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said.
Albayalde stressed the need for the communist group’s fighters to abide by the agreement.
“If there will be a ceasefire agreement, it should be bilateral not one-sided, not only suspension of military and police operations,” Albayalde said.
“Our government is doing everything to attain lasting peace and get rid of the conflict which has been going on for six decades,” he added.
Albayalde cited previous experiences when the communist group only took advantage of the ceasefire by strengthening their capability and intensifying recruitment.
“We have to at least follow what was agreed on–you cannot throw a punch while the other side is not throwing a punch. That is how we see the sincerity on both sides..we in the government are really sincere in offering peace,” Albayalde said.
Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Public Affairs Office, said the 135,000-strong military will support all of the government’s peace initiatives.
“Your AFP will always support the peace efforts of our government and we believe that this will pave the way towards a peaceful resolution of the decades old challenge that peace-loving Filipinos have been longing for,” Detoyato said.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had questioned the sincerity of the CPP-NPA in the peace talks – citing efforts by the communist group to regain their lost territories in the rural areas when guns fall silent.