THE chairman of the government’s peace panel said the military would refrain from attacking communist rebels as a confidence-building measure, but clashes were reported over the weekend, casting doubts on the ability of both sides to control their forces on the ground.
In Iloilo, about 50 alleged members of the New People’s Army attacked a police station in Maasin and took an undetermined number of firearms after handcuffing the policemen on duty.
In Davao Oriental, troops of the 104th Division Recon Company and one platoon from the 67th Infantry Battalion exchanged fire with NPA rebels in Brgy Taytayan, Cateel, on Saturday. Three rebels were killed.
Another rebel was killed in an encounter with the 66th Infantry Battalion in Brgy. Araibo, Pantukan in Compostela Valley Province.
The head of the government peace panel, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, said Sunday the Armed Forces would refrain from combat operations against the NPA as a step toward a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the rebels.
Bello’s statement came after the communist National Democratic Front recommended to the Communist Party of the Philippines that it order all NPA units in Mindanao to stop attacks against the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.
Bello also welcomed the NDF stand against terrorist groups.
“We welcome the recent statement of the National Democratic Front reaffirming its support to the Philippine government’s fight against Maute, Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Khalifah Philippines (AKP) groups and other terrorist organizations wreaking havoc in Marawi City and other parts of the country,” Bello said in a statement.
“We also appreciate the NDF’s commitment in their declaration to refrain from undertaking offensive operations in Mindanao to enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to focus their attention on the war against terror groups,” Bello said.
“These voluntary gestures and expressions from the NDF in solidarity with government against acts of terrorism augur well for the desired continuation of the stalled fifth round of peace talks as they provide, if sustained, the needed enabling environment favorable to moving the peace negotiations forward,” he said.
“The Philippine government hereby correspondingly reciprocates with the same declaration of not undertaking offensive operations against the New People’s Army to pave way for the eventual signing of a mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement and agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces towards a just and lasting peace,” Bello said.
Bello said the government continues to adhere to mutually acceptable principles enunciated in the Hague Joint Declaration, which was reaffirmed by both parties.
He also said the government “unequivocally recommits its adherence to all previously signed agreements, including specifically, but not limited to, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees [Jasig].”
Members of the government peace panel withdrew from the negotiating table during the fifth round of the peace talks last month due to a directive from the CPP that the NPA intensify its attacks on government troops to register its opposition to martial law in Mindanao.
President Rodrigo Duterte later appealed to the NPA to join the fight against the Maute group in Marawi City.
In response, the NDF said it will only cooperate if the Duterte administration withdraws its all-out war policy and the martial law declaration in Mindanao. With PNA
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