MANILA CITY — Government peace panel in talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) chair Silvestre Bello III expressed confidence that the release of political detainees and prisoners will improve trust between the two parties to agree on a joint and permanent ceasefire.
Bello, who is concurrently serving as secretary of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), however immediately clarified that the issue on the amnesty for detained rebels is separate from discussions on the declaration of a bilateral ceasefire and that the release is not a precondition to move forward the peace negotiations with the communist insurgents.
“[W]e treat the issue separately. ‘Yung release, we don’t tie it up with the ceasefire because may commitment ang presidente na ipapa-release yung mga political detainees and prisoners so we will do our best to obtain the releases (We don’t tie up the release with the ceasefire because there is a commitment from the president that he will release the political detainees and prisoners so we will do our best to obtain those releases),” Bello said in an interview earlier this week.
“[The] ceasefire is a separate issue although [the] releases can be taken as a confidence building measure which would motivate the other party to finally not only go to into signing but upgrading the level of ceasefire from unilateral, indefinite to joint and permanent ceasefire,” he added.
Bello also cleared that the releases of the political prisoners will continue even before the joint permanent ceasefire is signed and that a process is being followed for the amnesty. “[W]e will do [the releases] separate from the issue of ceasefire. So kahit walang nagpipirmahan (even though nothing has been signed yet), we will continue to work on the releases.”
“Kung maari sana, from the commitment of our president, ay mapapalaya natin at the same time [ang political detainees at prisoners] but we have to understand that they are not all similarly situated (If possible, from the commitment of our president, we’ll have the political detainees and prisoners released at the same time but we have to understand that the nature of their situation is not the same),” the labor secretary explained.
“Some are under detention, some are undergoing investigation, some are undergoing trial, and some have been convicted, so iba-iba ang situation nila (their situations are different). While the optimum resolve will be to have them all out all together we have to understand the processes, through which we have to obtain their releases.”
Bello also maintained that the commitment of the president and the efforts to obtain the releases is to show to the NDF that there is sincerity in addressing their concern about the remaining 400 imprisoned communist rebels.
Joint ceasefire seen to happen soon
The government peace panel chair also said that the signing of a joint and permanent ceasefire between the government and the insurgents is expected to happen by the end of November or the first week of December.
“[Both parties] agreed that we will consider and hopefully agree on the signing of a joint, permanent ceasefire within the period of 60 days from the time of August 27, so you count it from there, it should be October 26 [in which] we will be signing [the] joint, permanent ceasefire,” Bello said.
“[The problem is] Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza will be with the President in Japan, so will I, and I don’t want to miss [the] historic signing. Dapat kami yung magpirma so we asked for a resetting of the signing either towards the end of November or first week of December (We are the ones who should sign so we asked for a resetting of the signing either towards the end of November or first week of December),” he added.
In the 30-year history of the peace negotiations between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF, the talks have been disrupted for at least 15 times mainly due to two issues: the release of detained NDF consultants; and the declaration of ceasefire. Both issues were addressed by the Duterte government before the formal resumption of peace talks last August 22-28 in Oslo.
The first in the last five years, the talks last August yielded positive results with the reaffirmation of all previously signed agreements between the GRP and the NDF including 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.
Last September 22, GRP-NDF peace panel members met anew in Manila to discuss the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the two parties and the revitalization of their monitoring mechanism for human rights and international humanitarian law.
“I am pleased to tell you that unlike in the previous processes, this time, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nag-uusap kami [ni Secretary Dureza] at sabi niya this is the only time na we felt na merong direksyon yung pag-uusap namin (Secretary Dureza and I were discussing this and he said that this is the only time that they felt the peace negotiation has a direction),” Bello recalled.
“This is the only time that we feel na yung principal namin medyo similar din noong panahon ni former President Ramos na merong political will and having that, meron siyang mga ginawang bold steps to resurrect the moribund peace process (This is the only time that we feel that our principal is similar during the time of former President Ramos that has the political will and having that, he was making bold steps to resurrect the moribund peace process),” he said.
“Hopefully, with this other succeeding bold decisions, we may be able to succeed to bring this process into its logical conclusion and that is, lasting peace for our country,” the government chief negotiator said positively. ###