COMMUNIST leaders continued to demand the release of captured communist rebels even after staging surprise attacks on government forces and calling off a five-month-old ceasefire that was announced August last year.
Hours after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government troops to prepare to resume counter-insurgency operations, chief National Democratic Front negotiator Fidel Agcaoili demanded that the government release about 400 captured communist rebels for peace talks to continue.
“On the release and amnesty of political prisoners, the NDF maintains that this is a matter of justice and obligation under the [Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed in 1998 or CASER],” Agcaoili said.
“Some of these political prisoners have languished in jail for more than 10 years without conviction, in violation of the right to speedy trial as provided for in the [Philippine] constitution,” he said.
Agcaoili noted that 14 of them have died in prison, 13 under the time of Benigno Aquino III and one under Duterte.
“The NDFP has already proposed as early as October 2016 that the release and amnesty of all political prisoners can come after the signing of the CASER without prejudice to the early release of those who are sick, elderly, long-term detainees, women and innocent civilians on humanitarian grounds.” he said.
Agcaoili blamed the breakdown of the ceasefire on the military which, he claimed, conducted operations during the truce.
“On the other hand, the [New People’s Army] has maintained strictly its own unilateral ceasefire, taking extraordinary measures to avoid encounters with AFP troops while remaining on active defense,” he said.
But chief government negotiator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the NDF should take “command responsibility” for the actions of the NPA.
“There is a need for them to assume command responsibility [within their ranks],” Bello told state radio dzRB on Saturday.
Bello stressed that the NDF should agree to a joint bilateral ceasefire following their own allegations that the military violated its own unilateral ceasefire, when they return to the negotiating table this Feb. 22 to 25.
“In a unilateral ceasefire, you don’t know the violations. And should there be any violations, who will act as referee,” he said.
Among the contentious issues that they need to settle in crafting the guidelines for a joint bilateral ceasefire were the NPA’s collection of revolutionary taxes and their ransacking of schools, Bello said.
“There is a need for a bilateral ceasefire agreement, so we know the parameters, and the definition of terms—things you can call out as violations to ceasefire,” he added.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it was the NPA who broke the peace.
“The NPA had broken peace, ambushing soldiers at ease some of whom had just received wages when rebels shot and killed them viciously,” he said.
“Some progress had already been made during the third round of peace talks in Rome, but apparently there is some disconnect between dissident leaders negotiating at the table and their forces on the ground,” Abella said.
“It would be deeply regrettable that the otherwise positive developments now might have to be set aside,” he added.
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