The government and the communist National Democratic Front have postponed an envisioned ceasefire even before President-elect Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address to Congress, but only for a week or so, chief government peace negotiator Silvestre Bello said Monday.
“We will resume in July then immediately after resumption, we will declare a ceasefire,” Bello said. “Early August, we hope there will be a bilateral ceasefire between the two sides.”
“We have an agreement that upon the formal resumption of peace negotiations, there will be a bilateral ceasefire. That is what’s important in the peace talks, the declaration of ceasefire between the government and the [Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army],” he added.
“The killings will stop. The troubles will stop. There will be peace in our country for as long as we continue talking until we finally achieve Filipinos’ dream of lasting peace,” Bello said.
Bello did not explain why they changed the scheduled ceasefire which was initially envisioned to start before Duterte’s Sona on July 25, but he earlier said both peace panels plan to hold simultaneous negotiations on the remaining issues.
“To be able to fast-track the process, we will continue with a new track that is simultaneous [with] talks on the three remaining issues… Caser [Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms], the PCR [political and constitutional reforms] and end of hostilities and disposition of forces,” Bello said.
He said they plan to hasten the talks by increasing the number of negotiators for each side from four to seven.
Bello said that the incoming administration will use the Arroyo administration draft of the Caser, which includes issues of genuine land reform and national industrialization.
Among those being eyed for the government panel are former Pangasinan congressman Hernani Braganza, former Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento, and indigenous peoples’ representative Noel Pellongco from Cebu. Women will also be represented in the talks, Bello said.
The government and the communist rebels have been pursuing the talks sequentially—first finishing the substantive agenda on human rights and international humanitarian law.
“The position of the [government] panel is we honor all commitments that we signed. To show good faith, we have to stand by our agreements,” Bello said.
Bello added that “to tackle these three remaining issues, the panel created three reciprocal working committees.”