(2nd UPDATE) Government negotiators and communist rebels on Wednesday agreed on an interim joint ceasefire as the two panels pursue peace negotiations.
Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) representatives reached the agreement at the fourth round of talks held in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
This development followed a joint press conference wherein the negotiating panels announced a mutual release of prisoners.
NDF panel chair Fidel Agcaoili said in an press conference in the Netherlands earlier in the day that the Communist Party of the Philippines' armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), will release the following captives:
1. PFC Edwin Salan (taken captive in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29);
2. Sgt. Solaiman Calucop (taken captive in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2);
3. Pfc Samuel Garay (taken captive in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2); and
4. PO2 Jerome Natividad (taken captive in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9)
In a joint press conference with the rebel panel, chief government negotiator Jesus Dureza called the gesture "well appreciated and well received."
The government also announced that it would release 23 political prisoners, whose names will be released later. The government panel said some of the prisoners were being released through pardon, others on humanitarian grounds.
As to those with pending cases in various courts, Dureza said: "...[W]e have to deal individual with the different courts."
The government has yet to release a timeline on when the political prisoners may be expected to set free.
The signing was a turnaround from the suspension of talks last February, when the government and communist panels lifted a unilateral ceasefire the two sides separately announced.
Under the interim agreement signed Wednesday, both panels will direct respective committees to meet, discuss, formulate, and finalize the guidelines and the ground rules of the ceasefire.
They will also put into effect the ceasefire upon the approval and signing of the guidelines and the ground rules.
The interim joint ceasefire will be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is agreed upon as part of the final peace agreement between the two sides.
NPA rebels have been waging protracted guerrilla warfare for nearly five decades in rural areas in Philippines, killing more than 40,000 people.
Peace talks between the rebels' political arm, the NDF, and the government, brokered by Norway, resumed this week in the Netherlands, hoping to reach a political settlement in 12 months to end the conflict.
The two sides "after several days, have crafted together with the NDFP an agreement," Dureza said on Facebook.
President Rodrigo Duterte had approved the deal, he added.
It is the second time the two sides have agreed on a bilateral truce since November 1986, when the government and rebels signed a 60-day ceasefire.
But that deal was scuttled in January 1987 after police opened fire and killed 13 people during a farmers' demonstration in Manila.
The two sides are also discussing social and economic reform, but it was not known if the guerrillas had agreed to a demand by Duterte for the rebels to halt extortion and recruitment activities.
Peace talks between the two sides have been "intermittent and inconclusive" since 1986, bogging down in 2012 when the government refused to free political prisoners. They resumed in August 2016, when Duterte released 19 rebel leaders from jail.
But the president scrapped talks in February when rebels ambushed an army convoy, breaking a unilateral ceasefire that held for five months. He set four conditions before both sides returned to the negotiating table on Sunday. - with a report from Reuters