Bilateral ceasefire to be discussed in February; Reds point out AFP violations

The government’s proposal for a bilateral ceasefire agreement will be discussed in a formal meeting in Netherlands next month. This was one of the resolutions from the recently concluded third round of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Both panels recognized the importance of a bilateral ceasefire deal during the six-day negotiations, but the NDFP reiterated the GRP’s lack of compliance to requirements of such agreement. Aside from the continued detention of nearly 400 political prisoners, NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili also pointed out several reports of violations of the GRP’s own unilateral ceasefire.

Amid several reports of violations of the Government of the Philippines’ armed forces’ own unilateral ceasefire,  Agcaoili expressed earnest concern over possible lifting of their side’s unilateral suspension of New People’s Army armed operations.

In a presser on Monday, January 23, in Rome where the 3rd round of peace negotiations was held, Agcaoili noted the recent offensive operations of the AFP’s 39th Infantry Battalion in Makilala town of North Cotabato that led to an encounter with the NPA Southern Mindanao’s Guerrilla Front 51. In a statement, the NPA’s regional operations command confirmed 1 casualty from their side and 8 from AFP troops. The AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, however, denied of such loss.

The NDF peace panel at the 3rd round of peace negotiations under the Duterte administration in Rome, Italy. Photo from: Kodao Productions
The NDF peace panel at the 3rd round of peace negotiations under the Duterte administration in Rome, Italy. Photo from: Kodao Productions

The encounter is the first that has resulted to alleged fatalities on both sides. The firefight ensued for an hour on Saturday, January 21 and another 30-minute skirmish the following day in Sitio Lokatong in Barangay Biangan. Agcaoili protests such action of the military. “We consider it a breach of their own unilateral ceasefire, the EastMinCom even acknowledges that it was indeed a military operation. It is very clear that what happened was a raid of NPA encampment, which is again a clear breach of their unilateral ceasefire,” said the NDF’s head negotiator.

Agcaoili also revealed the mounting demands of NPA forces all over the country for the withdrawal of their unilateral ceasefire in view of the piling number of reported violations of the AFP.  “The six-month standing ceasefire was declared by the CPP and the NPA upon our recommendation.  It would be up to them to suspend it based on their appreciation of the realities on the ground,” said Agcaoili. He also stressed that “the decision has always been in the Philippines,” pertaining to the Communist Party’s leadership in the country and the NPA’s National Operations Command. In several earlier interviews, Agcaoili clarified that the decision on the implementation and lifting of a ceasefire is not solely at the hands of the NDF’s negotiating panel but on the national leadership of the CPP.

Agcaoili also added that even the concerns of the CPP are preceded on the demands of civilian population affected by the military’s violations such as hamletting, community occupation – day care centers, schools, and even residences, deliberate destruction of socio-economic projects, economic blockade, interrogation and harassment of community members, and other forms of human rights violations. “The people themselves urge the CPP and the NPA to halt the ceasefire in order for the communists to defend the community from AFP incursions and rights violations,” said Agcaoili.

In recent months, the CPP’s Central Committee through its Information Bureau consistently condemned the incursions of the AFP in guerrilla territories. In a statement on January, the top political body of the communist organization said that there are at least 800 villages all over the country that have been encamped and controlled by the military in a ‘treacherous’ exploitation of the standing ceasefire of the NPA. The CPP also accused the AFP of adversely affecting the livelihood of not less than half a million farmers in the nation.

It can also be remembered that on October last year, the communists called on President Rodrigo Duterte to ‘rein over’ his troops as it would endanger the then two-month-old unilateral ceasefire of the communist guerillas. They then accused the military of continuing to escalate counter-insurgency operations in defiance of the Duterte government’s own unilateral ceasefire.

The CPP in its January statement this year, also claimed that the NPA’s utmost effort in abiding by the Party’s declaration of unilateral ceasefire through maneuvers in avoiding skirmishes has been the only reason left for the continued ceasefire. In as early as January, the CPP already declared its readiness in suspending the ceasefire to ‘protect the welfare and interests of the people in the face of the abuses and intimidation of the AFP’.

Saboteurs on the move

Agcaoili shared a pattern in relation to the worsening ceasefire violations of the AFP. “What is happening is similar to what happened in 2005 to 2006 where many activists were killed, presided by the very same people like National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año,” Agcaoili said.

Hermogenes Esperon is President Duterte’s current National Security Adviser and is a former Chief of Staff of the armed forces during the administration of former president and now Deputy House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. During Esperon’s tenure as Chief of Staff, the government crafted and implemented Oplan Bantay Laya that codified the state’s approach in dealing with the revolutionary movement. The bloody military campaign towed a bloody carnage of civilian communities merely suspected of supporting the armed revolutionary forces in the hinterlands. Esperon’s Oplan Bantay Laya has reached international notoriety over gross human rights violations.

The current Chief of Staff however, General Eduardo Año is a seasoned intelligence officer, the former head of the AFP’s Intelligence Service. He was also implicated in the abduction of activist Jonas Burgos. Despite his consistent denial of any involvement in Burgos’ disappearance, a high court decision ruled that the military is ultimately responsible for the activist’s enforced disappearance.

Adverse condition on the ground; challenges on the peace table

Despite the successes achieved in the Rome talks, Agcaoili stressed the demand of the NDF for the Manila government to fulfill on its earlier promise and supposed responsibility in abiding by previously signed agreements to free all political prisoners.

“We have so far signed the supplemental agreement on the Joint Monitoring Committee and there are advances in the discussions on socio-economic and political and constitutional reforms,” he said.

“If the GRP really wants a bilateral ceasefire agreement, it should release all the political prisoners and stop their violations of their own ceasefire declaration,” Agcaoili added.

The chief negotiator said that the Communist Party agreed on the recommendation of the negotiating panel for a unilateral ceasefire following the vow of President Duterte that the release of all 392 political prisoners is forthcoming. But with the continuing detention of the political prisoners, worsened by the ceasefire violations of the AFP, a bilateral ceasefire is not yet possible.

On Tuesday, January 24, thousands of peasants and storm survivors trooped to the Provincial Capitol of Samar to demand Governor Sharee Ann Tan to support the peace negotiations and urge the military in the province to withdraw from their occupied communities. According to provincial peasant organization Kapunungan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Weste han Samar (KAPAWA), human rights violations committed by the military’s 8th Infantry Division are blatant in the towns of Hinabangan, Pinabacdao, Basey and Calbiga.

Peasant and disaster survivors group converged at the Samar Capitol grounds in Catbalogan to express their support to the peace process. Photo by: Kelvin Tonzon/Eastern Vista
Peasant and disaster survivors group converged at the Samar Capitol grounds in Catbalogan to express their support to the peace process. Photo by: Kelvin Tonzon/Eastern Vista

Lina Tabuyan, 53 a peasant leader of Calbiga town in Samar shared that military troops are still encamped in the mountain villages of her town and have committed serious human rights violations against the communities. She even said that sometime in September last year, once the military conducted a ‘medical mission’ but the medical prescriptions handed over to the people, were lists of different kinds of firearms and the corresponding prices. “It is a clear harassment of communities, they completely disregard their own ceasefire and we are the ones on the losing end if this continues,” Tabuyan said.

Lina Tabuyan, 53 shares her experience of rights violations perpetrated by Philippine military during the Marcos dictatorship and until now under the Duterte administration. Photo by: Kelvin Tonzon/Eastern Vista
Lina Tabuyan, 53 shares her experience of rights violations perpetrated by Philippine military during the Marcos dictatorship and until now under the Duterte administration. Photo by: Kelvin Tonzon/Eastern Vista

“We are just ordinary people, and definitely we support the peace effort of the NDF and the GPH, but it appears that the other side, particularly the Government of Duterte only talks of waging peace but continues to wage a pestilential war against us, the poor,” Tabuyan said.

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Eastern Vista

Eastern Vista is an alternative media organization in Eastern Visayas. Stories of people in the struggle for justice and aid after super typhoon Yolanda inspired its creation in 2014. Eastern Vista is also a co-producer of Lingganay han Kamatuoran, a Waray-based radio magazine program airing since 2003. From Eastern Philippines, Eastern Vista shares the news and views from a people rising.