MANILA—Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chairman of the government peace panel on Thursday said he was saddened by the abrupt decision of the New People’s Army (NPA) to terminate the unilateral ceasefire with government.
Despite all the odds, Bello said the government is determined to push through with the ongoing peace talks to end the five decade armed struggle, the longest in the world.
“The last six months have given us a glimpse of the sort of peace that could emanate from the cessation of hostilities brought about by the re-opening of formal negotiations and the declaration of unilateral ceasefires by the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF),” Bello said in a press statement.
He said violent clashes between the parties have gone down; displaced peoples and communities, particularly indigenous peoples, have begun returning to their homes; and economic investments and vital services have begun to flow into conflict-affected areas. Beyond these, our law enforcers have also been able to focus their attention to other serious criminal and terrorist threats.
“It is, therefore, regrettable that the NPA has decided to withdraw their unilateral ceasefire effective February 10, 2017,” he pointed out.
Acccording to Bello, the Government Panel negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front (NDF), firmly believes that the unilateral ceasefire declared by both parties in August last year was instrumental in moving the peace process forward.
He said the ceasefire has also provided people the opportunity to participate in the bigger peace table, enabling them to voice out their positions on the ongoing negotiations.
Hence, despite the NPA’s withdrawal of their ceasefire declaration, the Government Peace Panel has recommended to the President that the government stands by the unilateral ceasefire.
“We look forward to meeting with our NDF counterparts for the fourth round of talks in April and to discuss the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement on February 22, as agreed upon during the third round of talks held in Rome,” he stressed.
“It is our belief that such ceasefire agreement would set the ground rules on cessation of hostilities that could minimize, if not eliminate, the armed violence that affects communities,” he added.
In the meantime, Bello said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) shall continue to provide protection and relief from the potential renewal of violence resulting from the NPA’s recent declaration.
“We shall also endeavour to continue the peace-building and development efforts in conflict areas with local government units at the forefront, supported by national agencies in the delivery of basic services to our people,” he noted.
“Finally, we encourage all Filipinos to add their voices to the growing clamour of those directly affected by violent conflict, for continuing the ceasefire, and the chance to actively participate in the discussion for socio-economic and political reforms vital to the success of a final political settlement,” he concluded.