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Gov’t, NDF start bilateral truce talks

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NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands – As the Fourth Round of Peace Talks went underway Monday, the ceasefire committees of the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) started negotiating for a bilateral ceasefire agreement (BCA).

With this development, the chairpersons of both peace panels expressed confidence that a more lasting truce could be at hand.

Emerging from a two-hour conference at the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel here Monday afternoon, the ceasefire committees were able to exchange proposals on the BCA.

The GRP, as per President Duterte’s directive, is proposing for a BCA that will be accompanied by assurances from the NDF that communist rebels will stop collecting revolutionary tax, free prisoners, to not claim any part of the Philippines as their territory, and put a stop to all hostile actions like kidnappings, burning of private and public assets, and armed attacks.

“(The NDF) asked for some time to go over (the GRP proposal) and study it, and hopefully, tomorrow will have open discussions already,” said GRP peace panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III, who also stressed that the conditions set by the President were “not for the peace talks, but only for the BCA.”

And while the four conditions set by Duterte may appear too onerous for the communist side to agree to, Bello said these have actually been discussed before and that the NDF panel was “open to the idea.”

“Because under the proposal, there will be a signing, but it will be dependent on the convergence of the four annexes that will be the parameters of the BCA,” Bello averred.

NDF peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili said their proposal would consist of declarations of unilateral ceasefire by each party, with these orders being merged together to form a BCA.

Agcaoili contended that the NDF proposal had proven its viability since the unilateral ceasefires imposed by both sides in August 2016 had held with nary a report of any armed hostilities.

“The rules of engagement were clear, there were no armed hostilities,” he maintained.

He was referring to the unilateral ceasefire orders implemented by the GRP and NDF last August 2016 when the formal talks started in Oslo, Norway.

Only an encounter in Makilala, North Cotabato in January broke that truce and eventually led to the withdrawal of the unilateral ceasefires in early February.

But this early, there is one thing that Bello and Agcaoili are in agreement with regard the BCA – the release of prisoners by the NDF and its military arm the New People’s Army and of “alleged” political detainees being held by the government.

“Kung sa tingin nila, meron talagang ‘prisoners of conscience,’ this could be part of an agreement for release,” said Bello.

According to him, 19 detainees, who are sick and elderly, have already been released, while the cases of “about 150 to 160” others are still being studied. (Rocky Nazareno)