MANILA - Backdoor talks are set to begin in the coming days in what one government negotiator hopes can lead to a ceasefire agreement "in principle" ahead of the formal resumption of peace negotiations with Maoist rebels.
A team led by government peace panel member Hernani Braganza will fly to the Netherlands to tackle contentious issues such as ceasefire, “revolutionary tax,” and amnesty for political prisoners.
Braganza made it clear that these were not “conditions” but “agenda” items, citing the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration where both sides agreed that “no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.”
“May kahilingan 'yung gobyerno, may kahilingan din sila. These are not conditions,” he told ANC’s Early Edition.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman on Wednesday insisted that a “genuine ceasefire” was one “condition” before peace talks could resume.
“Hindi naman tayo papayag na tuloy na naman ang usapan, so that patuloy na naman ang kanilang pag-atake,” Secretary Harry Roque told a press briefing.
Braganza’s job now is to convince the National Democratic Front of the Philipines (NDFP) panel to at least agree “in principle” on a ceasefire deal during informal negotiations.
He said formal talks could resume in a month or earlier depending on the outcome of informal negotiations in Utrecht.
“Kahit ako, I will not agree na mag-reresume ng peace talks na hindi malinaw na may ceasefire. But I will not also impose on the other side na mag-ceasefire muna tayo bago tayo mag-resume ng talks,” he said.
On the agenda is a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, an improvement from the separate unilateral truce that held for 5 months in 2016. Government is pushing eventually for a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
The coordinated ceasefire proposal on the table establishes rules on coordination and monitoring of both sides, including the possibility of getting a third-party monitoring group.
“So technically, this is unilateral in name but bilateral in form,” Braganza said. “Pag nag-resume 'yung talks, I’m confident, this will be signed.”
Under the coordinated truce proposal, “base camps” will be established for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, in its “guerrilla zones,” he said.
“There is an idea of having camps by both sides. Hindi kami papayag as peace negotiators of government na 'yung gobyerno, back to barracks, tapos 'yung mga NPA units, iikot-ikot lang,” he said.
The NDPF negotiators, he said, would have to tell NPA combatants that under the proposal, they also could not go out of the camps with their guns.
Braganza said government negotiators would “insist” that a coordinated ceasefire agreement should not “limit” police and the military from going after “other threats to our national security.”
But NPA guerrillas will be informed that they are not the target of a police or military operation in their area, he said.
Duterte’s peace adviser earlier said the president was willing to provide “support, if necessary,” to the rebels “in replacement of the revolutionary tax.”
Braganza said the proposed government support could come in the form of socioeconomic projects, especially if both sides would agree on a coordinated truce that would keep rebels to specific camps.
“So ang tanong, kung ganun ang sitwasyon, saan naman kaya kukuha ng pagkain ‘tong mga ‘to?” he said.
“Let’s also be practical. On the assumption na maubusan ng pera ang NPA, what would happen to them? Paano sila kakain?”
Braganza cited reports that the NPA raised more than 1 billion pesos in revolutionary tax from one guerrilla front. The military has described the practice as extortion.
He said he was not aware if Duterte’s offer of support could include cash.
“It might be an impression of some people pero hindi ako aware na may ganoong iniisip ang ating pangulo,” he said. “But he mentioned providing support... para lang maging stable at sustainable 'yung peace negotiations.”