Gov't not keen on declaring own ceasefire

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2017 12:22 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2017 04:35 PM

[3RD UPDATE] The Philippine government is not keen on reciprocating the unilateral ceasefire the communist rebels are expected to declare before the resumption of peace talks, the government's peace panel chairman said Friday. 

Secretary Silvestro Bello III, chair of the negotiating panel for the government, said the the government's declaration is still under study.

"Right now, there is no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement," he said in a press briefing in Malacañang.

Bello believes this will not be a setback in the peace talks, as the negotiation for the bilateral ceasefire is the first agenda item when they resume formal negotiations on April 2 in The Netherlands after about two months of suspension.

"I think we should concentrate more on this more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or the ending of hostilities. At the same time we are assured of the parameters and the terms of reference of the agreement," he said.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said earlier this month they will declare an interim ceasefire by March 31 in anticipation of the fourth round of peace talks.

But Bello believes without the government's declaration, the Leftist rebels too will not impose a ceasefire.

"I don't think they will declare if we will not declare," he said.

"If they feel we are not prepared to declare one, then I don't think we will proceed with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire," he added.

Without the truce from the government's side, Bello assured that the military will maintain its "normal" operations.

"Normal [meaning] they have to do their work as protectors of our people, maintain peace and order. Wala munang activities beyond that," he said.

BILATERAL CEASEFIRE, RUN-INS WITH ARMED REBELS

Bello is optimistic a bilateral ceasefire can be forged by the conclusion of the fourth round of talks, noting that drafts on the "terms and conditions and parameters" have already been exchanged.

More importantly, he said, countries such as Switzerland, Canada and Australia have manifested their intent to act as third party facilitators for the bilateral ceasefire. 

Bello said he would "not discount" the possibility of President Rodrigo Duterte joining the panels in The Netherlands if a bilateral ceasefire is indeed signed.

Duterte scrapped the peace talks due to disagreements over the release of some 400 political prisoners and the killing of soldiers after the insurgents terminated the ceasefire.

Bello asserted however that skirmishes between the government forces and the rebels are to be expected because "we are in state of armed conflict."

"We are in a negotiation. When you negotiate, you must negotiate from a position of strength kaya pinapakita nila na meron silang lakas at dapat silang kausapin, kasi kung wala silang pinakitang lakas, hindi na natin sila kakausapin," he said.

According to the Armed Forces, two soldiers and ten communist rebels were killed in an encounter in General Nakar, Quezon Thursday, but Bello assured that this will not bog down the talks.