MANILA—Communist rebels have released key documents agreed upon during backchannel negotiations to pressure the government to resume formal talks, which were postponed by President Rodrigo Duterte following concerns raised by the military.
A draft proclamation prepared by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) seeks amnesty for political prisoners in connection with the decades-old communist insurgency, a copy of the document showed.
If granted, the amnesty would benefit more than 800 people, including top communist leader Jose Maria Sison, said NDFP peace panel consultant Rey Casambre, in a list to be provided by the group.
Sison himself released a copy of the signed stand-down agreement, which was supposed to be announced by the government and the NDFP a week before the resumption of formal talks on June 28.
Duterte, who earlier sought to revive negotiations within a 60-day window, later announced he was not ready to resume formal discussions yet.
Security officials were concerned that the New People’s Army might make use of the stand-down deal, which was expected to lead to a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, to beef up its forces and capture villages previously recovered by the military.
Sison on Saturday said his group opted to make the documents public “at least to expose the insincerity and lack of seriousness” of the government and “prepare everyone against the anti-peace and fascist scheme of Duterte and hope for the best.”
“Dirty war ang main strategy ni Duterte, palamuti lamang ang peace pretenses,” he told ABS-CBN News Saturday night.
Based on the NDFP draft, the president was to certify the amnesty proclamation as urgent with Congress concurring within 3 months.
“Amnesty under this proclamation shall extinguish any criminal liability for acts or ommisions punishable under the Revised Penal Code or special laws,” it said, in connection with the communist rebellion.
The amnesty will restore the civil and political rights of those in the NDFP list.
“We recognize that the issuance of such a proclamation is the prerogative of (Duterte) as well as its certification to Congress as an urgent measure,” chief NDFP negotiator Fidel Agcaoili told ABS-CBN News Saturday night.
“Our is just a proposal, you might say a recommendation, and the GRP sought clarification on some points, which our legal counsel provided.”
The amnesty proclamation, whose draft was provided by Agcaoili to ABS-CBN News, was supposed to be part of an interim peace agreement to be signed by both parties if formal talks resumed at the end of the month.
In the preliminary accord, the two sides agree to undertake “effective measures” to “do away with all obstacles and hindrances inconsistent with the agreements and to the continuation of peace negotiations.”
They also commit to continue formal talks to “resolve the armed conflict for the attainment of a just and lasting peace.”
Duterte earlier cancelled formal negotiations, questioning the sincerity of the rebels, who continued to attack government forces despite ongoing talks.
The president demanded a bilateral ceasefire deal, which the NDFP considered premature in the absence of more substantial agreement in the talks.
A coordinated unilateral ceasefire was supposed to form part of the interim peace deal, which would include preliminary agreements on land reform and nationalization of particular industries.
Under the interim accord, a bilateral preparatory committee would be created to facilitate the return of Sison, who was eyeing a homecoming within the year.
The agreement acknowledges that negotiations “may now successfully culminate in substantive agreements with the demonstrated commitment of the present leadership” of the government and the NDFP.