AFP rejects troop pullout, backs localized talks with Reds

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 06 2017 12:18 PM | Updated as of Apr 06 2017 12:56 PM

MANILA - The Philippine military is rejecting the demand of communist rebels for a pullout of military troops in rebel-infested areas in exchange for the release of 4 hostages.

"The conditions they are asking for is actually non-acceptable to us and the police as well as the President," Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces, said in an ANC interview.

Padilla noted that the rebels were initially asking for a 10-day ceasefire as well as the pullout of troops.

"They have identified areas where we need to pull out and they said these are the places where many of the movements of their group are being done and where the release is going to happen," he said.

"This is unacceptable. We are mandated agencies of government. We are duty-bound to protect our communities and our people from complaints of extortion and incidents of arson."

The spokesman noted that the communist rebels can simply release the rebels without making demands. He said members of the Church and non-government organizations can take custody of the captives.

"If they are really bent on releasing the kidnap victims that they hold, if they really want to show goodwill, it could be done now. They don’t need to wait for a ceasefire," he said.

National Democratic Front (NDF) panel chair Fidel Agcaoili earlier said in a press conference in the Netherlands that the New People's Army will release the following police officers and soldiers:

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)

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.

MILITARY OPS TO CONTINUE

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces said it will maintain its normal operations against communist rebels even after government negotiators and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines agreed on an interim joint ceasefire.

Padilla said the interim ceasefire does not come into effect until the guidelines have been signed and approved. He said the guidelines and ground rules will be worked on by both panels in the coming days.

"Prior to the signing and approval of these ground rules and guidelines, current state of affairs—which is the non-existence of a unilateral ceasefire on both parties—will still continue.

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.

Padilla said that while the negotiating panel's instructions trickle down to the armed group "and must be complied with in the context of the current negotiation", the different New People's Army units "behave differently across different areas."

"Unfortunately the attitude of the armed group, of the NPAs, are behaving differently in different areas of the country. In some areas, they seem to lean forward on the negotiations. In others, they seem to be much more aggressive and may indicate a non-compliance to some instructions from their negotiators," he said.

The spokesman noted Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison "does not represent the leadership per se" of the communist underground movement but acts as an adviser to the negotiating panel.

"Instead, those acting on behalf of the NDF are the ones who are on the panel itself. The NPA is only part of the group. It is the NDF side that is representing everybody so all the negotiations may be referred to their advisers for their inputs but primarily, the main negotiators are those in the panel itself designated as part of the GPH and the NDFP," he said.

Asked if the rebels on the ground have their own agenda, Padilla noted that one reason why they agreed to an interim ceasefire is to assess "if there really will be compliance on the ground."

He also noted that some rebel units have indicated a willingness to engage in localized peace talks or negotiations.

"We see this as a more responsive means to cater to the needs of the armed component in certain areas...If successful, we see this as a more viable opportunity to have a more permanent ceasefire in these areas because they are the people waging the battle," he said.

"What we seek is a more permanent, lasting and justifiable peace that will hopefully linger on for long and won't be interpreted by the whims and caprices of leadership on the ground, especially those who hold the gun."