MANILA, Philippines – Tension between the military and the communist New People's Army (NPA) highlights the urgency of a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will put in place common rules needed to make the ceasefire more stable.
The government seeks to get the joint ceasefire deal signed before yearend, after failing to meet the original October 27 deadline.
"We had to postpone the signing. Hindi pa nagkakaroon ng consensus sa several terms like, for example, 'yung monitoring. (There has been no consensus on several terms like, for example, monitoring.) What do you consider as hostile acts? What are the buffer zones?" said government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III.
As they define common rules, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) floated the possibility of its armed group NPA ending its ceasefire amid alleged violations by the military, singling out the Eastern Mindanao Command which is responsible for areas where the insurgency is strongest.
Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Rey Leonardo Guerrero denied they violated the ceasefire and reiterated the military's commitment to the peace process.
"We fully support the peace process as we hope that the NPA will finally abandon its armed struggle and join the rest of society in nation building," Guerrero told Rappler on Friday, November 11.
Military officers Rappler talked to claimed the NPA had violated the ceasefire, but the military are not reporting them to avoid fanning flames of distrust.
NDF: AFP clearing NPA areas
NDF negotiator Benito Tiamzon, tagged by the military as the “center of gravity” of NPA operations until his arrest in February 2014, claimed the ceasefire is only holding because the NPA is able to control its combatants.
Tiamzon claimed Guerrero has been asking military partners to continue "supporting our efforts to clear the remaining 156 NPA affected barangays by yearend."
“Kahit nagtitimpi at umiiwas sa engkwentro ang NPA, may hangganan ang pasensiya ng NDFP at NPA. Kung magpapatuloy ang makapal na ulat ng paglabag sa ceasefire at ang agresibong pagliligalig ng AFP sa mga magsasaka at komunidad na pinagdududahang sumusuporta o sumisimpatya sa NPA – lalo pa't kaalinsabay ay walang makabuluhang pag-abante sa usapin ng pagpapalaya at amnestiya sa mga political prisoners – hindi malayong wakasan ng NPA ang kanyang unilateral ceasefire at mas mabutihin ng NDFP ang pagpapatuloy ng peace talks na walang ceasefire gaya ng naging kalakaran sa nakaraan,” Tiamzon said in a recent peace forum.
(Even if the NPA is trying its best to avoid an encounter, there is a limit to the patience of the NDFP and the NPA. If persistent reports continue on the military’s ceasefire violations and aggressive activities against farmers and communities accused of supporting or being sympathetic to the NPA – along with the absence of significant developments in the releases and grant of amnesty to political prisoners – it is not far-fetched for the NPA to end its unilateral ceasefire, and the NDFP will choose to pursue peace talks without a ceasefire, as was done in the past.)
AFP: Operations 'non-combat' in nature
Eastmincom chief Lieutenant General Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the operations are "non-combat" in nature.
"Consistent with the ongoing ceasefire, our remaining barangay immersions are non-combat in nature and are intended to support LGU development programs. They are being done in partnership and coordination with the LGUs. We are about to finish our barangay immersion soon," Guerrero said.
AFP spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said the military has "strictly" implemented the suspension of operations against the NPA.
"The other side must understand that we have a constitutionally-mandated set of tasks that we need to continuously perform. We cannot renege on that. We are also duty- bound to support law enforcement," Padilla said.
"AFP has been very sincere and remains committed to the peace process. We have a proven positive track record supporting various peace initiatives and this will stay," he added.
The NPA declared an unprecedented indefinite ceasefire in August, following the 1st round of talks that formally resumed, after years of impasse in the peace talks.
The peace talks aim to institute social, economic, and political reforms to address widespread poverty in the country that the communist rebels blame on policies that, they said, were imposed by the country’s longest treaty ally, the US.
The peace talks also prompted the release of 22 NDF consultants that the military tagged as NPA commanders. The peace panel argued that their participation is key to making sure the talks are successful. – Rappler.com