By Martin Sadongdong, Zea Capistrano, and Argyll Geducos
The Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have agreed to recommend the implementation of "unilateral and reciprocal nationwide ceasefires" from December 23, 2019, to January 7, 2020, to their respective principals.
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
A copy of the joint statement by the two parties was released by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison in his official Facebook account on Sunday morning.
"The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), through their undersigned authorized representatives, hereby announce that they have agreed to recommend to their respective Principals the issuance of unilateral and reciprocal nationwide ceasefires effective from 00:00H of 23 December 2019 to 23:59H of 07 January 2019," read part of the joint statement that was signed in Utrecht, The Netherlands, on Saturday.
"These shall be measures of goodwill and confidence-building during the traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays," it added.
The signatories for the Philippine government were negotiators Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Hernani Braganza.
Those who signed for the NDFP were Luis Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoili, senior adviser and chairperson of the NDFP negotiating panel, respectively.
The signing was witnessed by Ms. Kristina Lie Revheim, a third-party facilitator from the Royal Norwegian government.
According to the GRP and NDFP, the parties shall separately issue the corresponding ceasefire orders to the armed units and personnel -- to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) on the part of the government, and the New People's Army (NPA) on the part of the NDFP.
"During the ceasefire period, the respective armed units and personnel of the Parties shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the other," the joint statement read.
The ceasefires were intended to generate a "positive environment" conducive to the holding of the informal peace talks which will be used to prepare for the resumption of the formal peace negotiations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was not aware of the agreement.
"We are not aware of this agreement between Sec. Bello and Jalandoni. We await advice from the Palace," he said.
President Duterte sent Bello to The Netherlands to start the informal talks with Sison two weeks ago.
Top security officials, such as Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., had earlier suggested that the government should not agree to a Yuletide truce with the CPP-NPA-NDFP since they said only the military was adhering to it.
Lorenzana even argued that the NPA often uses the ceasefire to sneak into the villages and recruit fighters to build up its strength while the soldiers rest in their barracks.
The military has yet to issue an official statement on the matter. It said that it is still verifying the authenticity of the document.
Duterte to decide on ceasefire
Malacañang said President Duterte will decide today, December 23, on whether to declare or not a unilateral ceasefire this holiday season.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Duterte was probably already aware of the agreement signed by the government with the NDF in Utrecht, The Netherlands, Saturday.
"Palagay ko (I would assume he already has a copy). By this time he has a copy," he said Sunday. "Bukas natin malalaman (We will find out tomorrow) ," he added.
Duterte had earlier ordered Bello to return to the Netherlands and talk to Sison. He terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines when he issued Proclamation No. 360 on November 23, 2017. The talks would have been on their fifth round.
However, despite Duterte's announcement of wanting to revive the peace talks, suspected members of the NPA allegedly detonated an improvised explosive device in Borongan City, Eastern Samar, last week, killing a police officer and a 69-year-old woman and wounding several other people.
Last week, the President ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to "crush" the NPA. However, Malacañang said this did not mean that the President was closing his doors to talk peace with the rebels.
Esperon said last week that Duterte was on top of the communist rebel's hit list. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said this week that two high-ranking communist rebels out to "liquidate" Duterte were killed in Quezon City.
Panelo said Sison denied that they were out to kill the President.
"Yung natanggap ng mga kasama natin ay hindi totoo. Itinanggi na, eh (The information our colleagues received was false. The other party already denied it)," he said.
Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate said Sunday that the possible holiday ceasefire between the Philippine government and the communist rebels "augurs well" for the resumption of peace talks between the two parties.
"We welcome today with cautioned enthusiasm the joint announcement of a possible unilateral and reciprocal ceasefires between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) forces from midnight of December 23, 2019 until midnight of January 7, 2021," Zarate said in statement.
"This certainly will augur well in creating the favorable environment necessary for the resumption of the cancelled peace talks between the GRP and NDFP, which is long awaited by our people," added the solon, who is a senior deputy minority leader.
"We strongly call on the GRP and NDFP to resume the talks in earnest without preconditions and based on previously signed and binding agreements," Zarate said.
"There's a lot more to be done. Thus, we urge the negotiators and the respective principals of the GRP and NDFP to stay the course and always consider the primordial interests of our country and people as their guide," he said. (With a report from Ellson Quismorio)