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Government, NDF forge deal for indefinite truce

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - An indefinite ceasefire between the communist rebels and the government takes effect today after their representatives signed a joint declaration in Norway to stop armed hostilities in preparation for talks to end once and for all the decades-long rebellion.

The declaration of the truce came almost simultaneously with the announcement of the release of three policemen by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

The truce was contained in a joint declaration committing “to unilateral ceasefires with no time limit,” said Norway’s foreign ministry, which sponsored the talks.

Norway said the joint declaration marks the resumption of formal negotiations between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front.

The latest ceasefire was a continuation of an earlier one called by the government, but which expired today.

Some 150,000 people have died in the conflict that began almost half a century ago.

Both sides said they had made important progress in the talks in Oslo in advancing a peace process that has dragged on for decades.

“The joint statement we are signing manifests the historic significance of what we have achieved,’’ said Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, before the signing of the joint declaration.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza called the statement a “historic and unprecedented event” and gave credit to President Duterte.

“Not only has President Duterte walked the extra mile. He has also taken a step back to give the NDF space under his democratic and inclusive government,” he said.

“We will go home with a promise of a just and lasting peace and our soldiers and the combatants of the NDF finally coming to terms that the war must end,” he added. He stressed no acrimonious exchanges happened.

The discussions were jovial even, he said, with off-the-cuff remarks and banter periodically triggering laughter in the room.

“Yes, there were breaks in between but they were devoted to discussing the fine print of the documents and drafts that were passed and handed out across the table,” Dureza said.

They capped their discussions and exchange of notes with a boodle fight dinner Thursday evening.

President Duterte had promised to reopen talks and release all rebel leaders in detention during the election campaign period.

Duterte received two of the three freed policemen at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao Oriental.

Pacman with freed cops

The two were Police Chief Inspector Arnold Ongachen of the Governor Generoso Municipal Police, and PO1 Michael Grande of Lupon, both in Davao Oriental.

The two arrived on a helicopter accompanied by Sen. Manny Pacquiao at around 3 p.m.  and were kept away from the media pending the arrival of Duterte at the camp for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Eastern Mindanao Command.  The third police captive, PO1 Richard Yu, was released in Tandag City.

An NDF statement said four more captive policemen are set to be released today in Surigao del Norte province. They are PO2 Caleb Sinaca, PO3 Jayroll Bagayas and non-uniformed personnel Rodrigo Angob of the Malimono Municipal Police Station and SPO3 Santiago Lamanilao of the Surigao City Police.

According to the NDF press statement, the four were arrested for involvement in illegal drugs and illegal gambling in Malimono and Surigao City.

In their statement, the two sides reaffirmed previous agreements and were set to discuss the release of detainees and who should get immunity to take part in the talks. Negotiators said they aim to complete the peace talks in nine to 12 months.

Although less numerous and less violent than Muslim separatist rebels in Mindanao, the Maoists have fought and outlived successive Philippine administrations for nearly 50 years, holding out against constant military and police offensives. They draw support from those dissatisfied with economic inequality, especially in the countryside, and the Philippines’ alliance with the US.

Norway has had a role as facilitator for the peace process since 2001. Fitful peace talks have been going on since 1986.

Duterte said he wants to end guerrilla wars with both communist and Muslim rebels that have been hampering economic development. The 3,000-strong New People’s Army is the armed wing of the CPP-NDF.

“I am happy to announce to our fellow Filipinos that the CPP-NPA-INDF agreed to declare that the unilateral ceasefire it has declared and is about to lapse tomorrow  (Saturday) is now indefinite,” said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello in Oslo.

NDF peace panel head Luis Jalandoni lauded Duterte’s show of determination to forge peace with the rebels.

Jalandoni said the release of 21 detained NDF consultants would be crucial to the progress of the peace negotiations.

The formal session – the first after five years – reaffirmed all previously signed agreements between the Philippine government and the NDF such as The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, the 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. The documents were signed during the Ramos administration.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said they are looking forward to the completion of the peace process and the implementation of a comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms (CASER) within six months.

“We’re happy that both parties have promised to complete the work,” Abella said in yesterday’s press briefing in Malacañang. He said Bello considers CASER as the heart and soul of the peace negotiations.

Earlier, the government released several top-rank communist representatives to allow them to join the talks, including couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon. Benito, chairman of the CPP-NPA, and Wilma, secretary-general, were caught in a military operation in Aloguinsan town in Cebu in March 2014.

Also released were Renante Gamara, Tirso Alcantara, Adelberto Silva, Concha Araneta-Bocala, Alan Jazmines, Ariel Arbitrario, Eddie Genelsa and Alfredo Mapano.

Sadyandi

Meanwhile, lumad groups expressed their support for the peace talks, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said yesterday.

The Sadyandi, a lumad term, was joined by eight tribes and Moro groups which also voiced support for the peace negotiations.

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo joined thousands of lumad and other tribal groups in Koronadal, South Cotabato, as they celebrated on Wednesday their Solidarity Festival through a “Sadyandi,” or unity pact.

“Specifically we are working with other government agencies such as the Department of Education to build more schools for lumad children and youth, and to ensure that the projects of the DSWD do not go against the welfare and culture of our lumad brothers and sisters. We support their struggle to recover and return to their ancestral lands,” Taguiwalo said.

“The peace talks between our government and the NDFP aim to bring to the table the substantive agenda for peace based on social justice. It is good that the lumad and other IP communities support the peace negotiations and that they themselves are issuing their calls to both parties,” she pointed out. With Edith Regalado, Ben Serrano, Van Nilles, Pia Lee-Brago

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