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Peace talks resuming after breakdown

PEACE talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) broke down early last February over a demand of the NDF-CPP-NPA for the release of some 400 political prisoners.

When President Duterte refused, saying he had already released several prisoners needed to serve the NDF-CPP-NPA panel as consultants, panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili told the leaders of the fighting forces – the NPA – that they were free to decide whether they would continue with their unilateral ceasefire, based on their appreciation of field conditions. The NPA proceeded to carry out attacks in various parts of the country.

President Duterte immediately replied in kind. The peace talks were set aside and fighting resumed. But many officials continued to hope for peace. Some 100 congressmen called for a revival of the talks, as so much had already been accomplished in the three meetings held in Oslo, Norway, and in Rome, Italy. They were to hold their fourth meeting in Utrecht, Switzerland, when the peace talks were cancelled.

The immediate cause of the breakdown was the demand for the release of 400 more political prisoners, which President Duterte refused. He pointed out that while there had been preliminary agreement on many issues – socio-economic and legal-political – the two sides could not even agree on a common ceasefire. Each side was only operating on its own unilateral ceasefire.

The NPA claimed that AFP community operations – moving into remote mountain villages with civic action programs with youth volunteers – were a violation of the ceasefire. That was why they picked up and detained a soldier working with one youth group. It was at this point that the NDF panel chairman Agcaoili told the NPA commanders that they were no longer bound by their ceasefire.

Were these incidents sufficient basis for the breakdown in talks? Both sides have had sufficient time to consider these incidents in the last six weeks and they must have realized that with so much at stake, they should be less demanding and be more understanding, more open to compromise agreements.

Last Friday and Saturday, the two sides met in informal talks in the Netherlands and decided to resume formal negotiations in the first week of April. They will have had four months to think things over, see where and how the breakdown came, and take steps to ensure that the peace talks will now proceed on the truly basic issues related to social and economic reforms, justice, and legal, political, and constitutional changes in the life of our nation.

And they should be able to work out a common ceasefire agreement.