MANILA — A Philippine government consultant has quit following disagreements on how to proceed with peace negotiations to end nearly 50 years of Maoist rebellion in the country.
Francisco “Pancho” Lara Jr. stepped aside as chief of the government peace panel’s ceasefire committee, saying additional demands by President Rodrigo Duterte “torpedoed” certain areas of negotiations.
The committee led discussions on Duterte’s demand for a bilateral truce with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Lara acknowledged that the ceasefire was part of the president’s original agenda, but not the “localized” peace talks or the demand for communist leader Jose Maria Sison to come home from The Netherlands.
“I think those additional issues torpedoed the discussions of a ceasefire and the other reforms because then, the bar had been raised higher,” Lara told ABS-CBN News.
Lara said his decision to quit would allow Duterte’s new peace adviser, former military chief Carlito Galvez, to pick a new ceasefire chairman who “is trusted by the military and the president.”
“I chaired discussions on vital sections of the military and probably, they would like to take it on themselves,” said Lara, who relayed his decision to government peace panel member Hernani Braganza.
The government and NDFP peace panels earlier signed a June 8 stand-down agreement in preparation for an interim peace accord that was to be inked later that month.
The preliminary peace agreement was supposed to include a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, which was a step closer to a more binding bilateral deal.
But military officials cautioned Duterte against the stand-down agreement, doubtful that the rebels would keep their word.
The president then opted to review preliminary agreements signed by his peace panel.
“I know that based on my discussions with the military that they probably want something else rather than a ceasefire,” Lara said.
“I think they want to prosecute the war as it is happening right now.”
Government troops have intensified operations against the communist movement's armed wing, the New People’s Army, following Duterte’s order to “destroy” them, including the communist legal fronts.
The rebels stepped up attacks as well ahead of their unilateral ceasefire during the holidays.
Continued offensives by the NPA on government forces, despite ongoing peace talks, angered Duterte, who had been visiting slain or wounded troops.
The president’s insistence on a bilateral ceasefire as a demand for formal talks was a break from the “talk-and-fight” scenario, where the two sides would continue to negotiate even if their forces clashed on the ground.
“Puwedeng walang ceasefire pero tuloy ang negotiation. Pero 'yung wala nang ceasefire, wala pang negotiation, 'yun 'yung problema,” Lara said.
(It is ok to have no ceasefire but the negotiations continue. But to have no ceasefire and no negotiation, that's the problem.)
“I would rather that if you really cannot convince your groups on a ceasefire, then just go on with the negotiations even if there is no ceasefire.”