COMMUNIST rebels on Saturday scored the military for allegedly maintaining troops in communities despite the promise to recall troops from combat operations, a day after they agreed to an indefinite ceasefire to create mechanisms for a binding interim truce with the government.
But the military insisted that routine law enforcement operations and patrols “will continue” despite the ceasefire to ensure the safety of their bases and the community.
“The CPP strongly criticizes the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] for maintaining their presence and continuing to make aggressive moves in and around the areas of operations of the NPA,” the CPP said in a statement.
“There have been persistent reports of continuing presence of armed operating troops of the AFP in barangay centers, occupying barangay halls, community schools and day care centers, senior citizen centers and other civilian structures. They continue to set up detachments or physical bases in the center of civilian population,” the group added. “The presence and operations of the AFP in rural communities undermine the credibility of the Duterte government among the people as it projects an image of disunity within the GRP or refusal of the AFP to abide by the order of its commander-in-chief.”
The CPP said: “According to our reports, when questioned, field commanders invariably justify their presence with claims of ‘peace and development’, ‘anti-drug’, ‘anti-logging’ and ‘visitations’. To the people, these are nothing but thinly-veiled pretexts to impose their armed presence and to carry out psywar, surveillance and search and combat operations against the NPA.”
On Friday, the government and the communist rebels agreed in Oslo, Norway to extend indefinitely their ceasefires and create mechanisms within 60 days for a binding interim truce agreement before returning to the negotiating tables next October.
The government and NDF panels agreed on six major contentious issues that would move the negotiations forward.
They also re-affirmed previously signed agreements, among them The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in 1996, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998.
Both panels also agreed to reconstitute the JASIG list, which will be on an encrypted file and will contain photos and identities of NDF consultants still in hiding but will enjoy immunity from arrest.
The list will contain the names and photos of 54 NDF “publicly known” consultants and 87 guerrilla leaders publicly known by their “assumed names.”
Also given a thumbs up during the meeting were the revitalization of the joint monitoring committee, the submission of a recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte on the issuance of an Amnesty Proclamation, subject to Congress concurrence, for the arrested, imprisoned and charged NDF members.
After more than half a decade of impasse, both negotiating panels signed the “Joint Statement on the Resumption of the Formal Peace Talks in the Peace Negotiations” as a result of the formal peace talks from August 22 to 26.
Military officials had earlier confirmed that troops had been recalled from combat operations, insisting however, that there won’t be any pull-out of troops.
Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said all combat operations have been canceled and their troops are returning to the barracks.
“Some field units are still on their way [to barracks],” Hao said. “But definitely we no longer have ongoing combat operations.”
“There is no instruction (from higher authorities) for us to pull out from the communities. The instruction is for us to stop combat operations so we will stop our combat operations. Focused military operations have corresponding orders so these were already cancelled,” Hao said.
The Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) against the CPP-NPA-NDF reiterated that AFP troops shall remain in communities.
Should the NPA conduct actual attacks against soldiers or communities, the AFP leadership authorized military action to “defeat” the enemy.
“Commanders must clearly understand the strategic implications of any actions so as not to jeopardize the implementation of the [ceasefire] and, more importantly, the realization of the President’s intent for a lasting agreement with the CPP,” the SOMO read.
“In cases of actual NPA violent attacks, the AFP shall treat the incidents as law enforcement operations in coordination with the PNP and immediate use of military force to repel and defeat the attack is authorized,” the instruction from AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya added.
The Oplan Bayanihan, the military’s anti-insurgency measure, will also continue despite calls from leftist groups for Duterte to rescind the alleged militarization efforts by the army.
Security operations , focused on the neutralization of other threats to national security, such as the ASG and other terrorist groups, and the protection of communities, government facilities, military camps and other vital installations will continue despite the truce.
President Duterte, who welcomed CPP’s declaration of ceasefire, had reiterated “there is no such thing as militarization.”
“Every inch of this property of the Republic must be occupied by the soldiers of the government. There is no such thing as hindi kayo papasok diyan kasi (do not enter that because) no militarization there,” the President said in Davao City.
The CPP, however, slammed the military’s excuses, saying “people are made to suffer by the oppressive presence of armed operating troops.”
It said: “The AFP must also stop making the stupid counter-demand for the NPA to also withdraw from their communities. These are nothing but empty noise to drown the clamor for their removal.
“In the first place NPA units do not set up detachments inside the communities or use barangay halls as their barracks,” the group said, claiming the people’s right to free movement is restricted for fear of being accosted by the soldiers.
“Economic activity is affected as peasants choose not to tend their fields for fear of being questioned by soldiers. There have been restrictions on commerce, particularly, on the amount of goods that can be purchased by community stores. Community leaders, especially those active in struggles for land and against mining are being summoned or ‘invited’ by the AFP.”
But the NPA said “If the AFP will insist on maintaining its presence in communities and launching aggressive operations into the interior areas, armed skirmishes are bound to erupt despite the NPA’s effort to maintain the ceasefire.”
The CPP also announced that the NPA is set to release “at least seven prisoners-of-war in Surigao and Compostela Valley.”
“In Northern Mindanao, the NPA command took the initiative of extending the effectivity of the ceasefire to facilitate the safe and orderly release of the prisoners, all of whom are GRP police officers accosted to undergo preliminary investigation,” it added.
Meanwhile, the Royal Norwegian Government welcomed the signing of the joint statement between representatives of the Philippine Government and the communist movement National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo this week.
‘In the course of a few days, the parties in the Philippine peace process have reached agreement on issues that have blocked progress for many years. The agreement to recommend amnesties and a ceasefire is a breakthrough. It is also of crucial importance that the whole of the communist movement National Democratic Front of the Philippines is now represented here in Oslo,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende.
‘I would like to congratulate the parties, who have shown considerable flexibility and the desire to achieve this important joint declaration. The intentions behind the declaration, combined with the constructive negotiation climate, will form the basis for further peace talks,” he added.
The AFP also lauded the decision of the National Democratic Front to extend indefinitely its week-long ceasefire in view of its peace talks with the government.
“The AFP have noted with elation and optimism this breakthrough in the peace negotiations,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
“It is a laudable move on the part of the CPP-NPA-NDF to respond positively to President Duterte’s declaration of the reimposition of the ceasefire ‘for as a long as necessary’ to attain lasting peace in the land,” Arevalo said.
He said: “The nation can rely on every soldier, sailor, marine and airman to help provide an environment conducive to peace so that negotiators from both panels can work under the climate of trust and [push for] prospect of reconciliation.” With PNA
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