MANILA-- The government's chief peace negotiator on Wednesday said the decision of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) to terminate its interim ceasefire came as an 'unpleasant surprise,' coming just a week after the third round of peace talks in Rome.
In a press briefing at the House of Representatives, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they were surprised with the turn of events since there was prior agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to meet again later in the month.
The government and NDF panels met in Rome last January 19-25 which ended with both sides giving assurance that their separate unilateral ceasefire would hold pending their upcoming talks.
"It was an unpleasant surprise since all the while, our scheduled meeting on February 22-25 in the Netherlands is solely for the purpose of upgrading the existing separate ceasefires into that of a bilateral ceasefire," Bello said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Communist rebels said the unilateral ceasefire that they declared last August 28, 2016 will be terminated effective February 10.
Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos, spokesman of the National Operations Command of the NPA, said the termination was due to the alleged non-compliance of the government in the release and amnesty of political prisoners and the alleged "encroachment of government on rebel territory."
The Armed Forces of the Philippines likewise accused the communist rebels of violating their own truce by staging attacks and extortion activities.
However, Bello said the accusations from both sides has made it more imperative for the government and the NDF to hammer out a bilateral ceasefire agreement and said that he would advise President Rodrigo Duterte to continue with the ongoing talks.
"These developments merely underscore the need to come out with a bilateral ceasefire agreement so that you will know when an act will constitute a hostile act or when an act will constitute a violation of the ceasefire agreement," he said.
Bello said that the February talks would focus on just that -- setting the parameters and terms of reference for the ceasefire agreement.
"Nobody could accuse anybody of violation because there is no basis. But more importantly, without a bilateral ceasefire agreement, who will decide on what constitutes a violation of the ceasefire agreement?" he said.
"It is important that both parties discuss and agree to the terms and conditions of a bilateral ceasefire agreement. We have to provide the peace talks with an atmosphere that is conducive to the conduct of the peace negotiations. That what we hope to achieve on February 22-25," Bello said.
In the meantime, the government's representative to the ceasefire committee said that the CPP-NPA unilateral truce withdrawal is only a temporary setback.
"The future is not bleak as peace talks is concerned," Hernani Braganza said in the same press briefing.
He said that both sides should take advantage of the 10-day grace period provided before the actual truce termination of the communist rebels.
"We need to use this window to try and figure things out," he said.
"It is also a good thing that President Duterte has not withdrawn the government's own ceasefire declaration," Braganza said. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency