Peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and communist rebels have met a roadblock with the insurgents terminating its 6-month unilateral ceasefire for failure by government to release all political prisoners.
“In our experience and in the experience of other peoples, it is possible to negotiate while fighting,” said Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, spokesman of the New Peoples Army (NPA), the armed wing of the communist movement in the country.
Both sides separately declared unilateral ceasefires in August 2016 at the start of preliminary negotiations for resumption of peace talks.
President Rodrigo Duterte had promised to release the prisoners as he initiated last year resumption of peace talks with leaders of the 50-year old communist insurgency.
President Duterte failed to fulfill the promise, according to Ka Oris.
Giving another reasons for ending the ceasefire, Ka Oris, speaking for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) combine, also accused the Philippine military of taking advantage of the ceasefire by encroaching into rebel territories.
In a statement released on January 31, Ka Oris said “the August 28, 2016 unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire issued by the Central Committee of the CPP (CPP-CC) and the National Operations Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-NOC) is hereby terminated.”
The rebels’ unilateral ceasefire was to expire on October 2016 but extended to February 10, 2017, on request by the Philippine government which said that legal processes may delay the release.
The release of the political prisoners “was the context why the GRP panel approached the NDFP towards the end of October seeking an extension of the CPP/NPA’s declaration with a promise that around 200 political prisoners were set to be released,” Ka Oris said.
The rebel spokesman said the Philippine governement failed to comply with its obligation to amnesty and release all political prisoners under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
“The unilateral ceasefire declaration was issued on the mutual understanding with the GRP that such releases will take effect within 60 days of August 28,” said Ka Oris.
Ka Oris said despite the government’s own unilateral ceasefire, also declared August last year, the military continued with hostile actions, provocations, surveillance and other offensive operations labelled as “peace and development, civil-military, peace and order, anti-drugs campaign, medical missions, and law enforcement.”
The Philippine government is “treacherously taking advantage of the unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire to encroach on the territory of the people’s democratic government,” he said.
Ka Oris said however that the CPP-NPA-NDF, despite termination of the ceasefire, would continue to support the peace negotiations within the framework of The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.
With its unilateral ceasefire terminated, communist rebels may resume operations against government troopers.
“In our experience and in the experience of other peoples, it is possible to negotiate while fighting until the substantive agreements are forged to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” Ka Oris said.
“We oppose the use of interim ceasefires as basis for a protracted or indefinite ceasefire without substantial benefit for the people and their revolutionary forces and for laying aside peace negotiations on substantive issues such as social, economic and political reforms. Such is tantamount to the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary people and forces,” Ka Oris said.
With the unilateral ceasefire of the Philippine military still in effect, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said will not conduct offensive actions against the rebels.
But he warned troopers will not be “sitting ducks” in the event of “aggressive operations” by the communist rebels.
The rebel declaration terminating its unilateral ceasefire came days after the emd of the Third Round of negotiations held in Italy, Rome.
Before the Rome talks started, President Duterte had made it clear that he would only start ordering the release of political prisoners once he sees a signed document by the GRP and NDP peace panels agreeing to a joint bilateral ceasefire.