NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE—The panels of the government and the National Democratic Front on Wednesday sealed an agreement here on an interim joint ceasefire leading to a comprehensive settlement of the 48-year insurgency.
Both parties also moved fast to conclude provisions on a draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms meant to address the root causes of the armed conflict.
The ceasefire takes effect as soon as the guidelines and ground rules approved.
The guidelines will cover the areas such as those governing the presence of armed groups in local communities and creation of buffer zones; on prohibited, hostile and provocative acts including the collection of revolutionary taxes; and undertaking of joint socio-economic projects.
Also contemplated in the agreement is the formation of a Joint Ceasefire Committee and the prospective role of a third party in ceasefire monitoring and other ceasefire mechanisms in the implementation of the ceasefire, including the handling of complaints and alleged violations.
“Matters regarding a single government authority and taxation shall be discussed and resolved in forging the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines,” the agreement provides.
“The Joint Ceasefire Agreement shall be deemed interim until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged pursuant to a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces,” the agreement also provided.
The agreement was hammered out following marathon informal talks.
At the opening of the formal talks on Monday, government panel head Silvestre Bello III welcomed the openness of the NDF “to forge an agreement on joint interim ceasefire that will accompany our peace negotiations throughout, a ceasefire that marches in step with the discussion of the socio-economic reforms that will address the root causes of armed conflict.”
A separate formal meeting was also set to harmonize provisions on the draft CASER, which provides among others free distribution of land to landless farmers.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to immediately end the many years of exile of his former professor, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, expressing concern over the leader’s health.
“Before I came here, [Peace Process Secretary Jesus] Dureza and Bello called me, they told me about the status of their talks. I told them, you tell Sison because he’s sick, very sick. He can come home. I’ll give him freedom of movement. I will not arrest him, I’ll even pay for his hospitalization if he wanted,” the President said.
Sison, who sought political asylum at Utretch in The Netherlands, was hospitalized in January, causing him to miss the third round of peace talks in Rome, Italy.
Sison said he was ready to participate in the ongoing fourth round of talks, but Duterte said he was worried about his health.
Also on Wednesday, both sides started drafting an agreement that would pave the way for the release of military and police personnel captured by the New People’s Army, one of four conditions the President set out before the fourth round of talks began.
The other conditions include the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement; a stop to the collection of “revolutionary taxes”; and the non-recognition of any territorial claim made by the communists.
The communist insurgents earlier expressed their willingness to release the captured military and police personnel from March 27 to April 6, among them a policeman from Bukidnon and three soldiers from Surigao del Norte and Sultan Kudarat.
The release failed to push through, however, because of an ongoing military offensive against the rebels.
The communist rebels insisted Wednesday that a CASER be signed before a bilateral ceasefire is called.
Optimistic that government negotiators will agree to sign a CASER with the Duterte government before the end of the year, Sison said that they will agree for a binding ceasefire if their counter demands are met.
“The people demand that CASER be a step ahead of the joint ceasefire agreement, unless these agreements can be signed at the same time by the panels and then by the principals,” Sison said.
He added that the respective versions of the government and the National Democratic Front both share similar positions.
“I have read and studied the drafts of the proposed agreements from the GRP and NDFP and I have also examined the comparative matrices. I observe that there are enough concurrences and similar positions as common ground for forging the agreements,” Sison said.
Being “the heart and soul” of the peace talks, NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said that “the wisdom of securing the approval of the CASER ahead of any bilateral ceasefire agreement,” is needed, “unless both agreements can be signed simultaneously.”
“It is important to stress this as the issue of ceasefire should not be pursued as an end itself. Ceasefires, whether unilateral or bilateral, are just a means to an end. Its main purpose is to create conditions conducive to reaching agreements on basic reforms that are satisfactory to both sides,” Agcaoili said.
On Tuesday, both panels agreed to discuss a joint interim ceasefire agreement as they discuss other terms. With John Paolo Bencito
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