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Martial law order puts a strain on GRP, NDFP talks

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With nerves frayed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), representing a 49-year-old Communist insurgency, return to the negotiation table Saturday for the fifth round of formal peace talks in Noordwijk Ann-see, The Netherlands.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza averred that since there is no standing ceasefire agreement between the government and the Communists, which include the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), any insurgent under their command who would be out to do no good would be subject to the “full force of the military rule as per the order of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”

RARE INTERVIEW – The Manila Bulletin’s interview with CPP Founding Chairman Jose Maria Sison last May 8 through Skype from his residence in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

“We do not have any ceasefire agreement with them, so anybody who would disrupt the peace will subject themselves to the martial law put in effect by the military on orders of the military,” Dureza said in an interview with The Manila Bulletin Tuesday.

But the CPP remained defiant as it ordered its forces on-the-ground to “plan and carry out more tactical offensives across the Philippines.”

“By declaring martial law in Mindanao, Duterte has gone beyond the threats and theatrics of the past months,” the Party said in a statement published on philippinerevolution.info Wednesday.

Dureza said the NDFP could learn well from the stand-down attitude that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have taken even while the Marawi siege by the terrorist Maute Group was going on.

“We have peace mechanism with the Moro groups that promote peace in the area. These mechanisms will address that all those who would disrupt peace will be addressed by the full force of martial law,” he said.

But with regards the Communists, Dureza said he could not “speculate until things settle down.”

GRP Peace Panel Chairman Silvestre Bello III told The Manila Bulletin that he hoped that the martial law declaration in Mindanao will be “seen by the NDFP with urgency (so as to) fast-track the peace process.” He did not elaborate.

GRP Peace Panel Member Hernani Braganza that the President’s declaration “will not, in any way, derail the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF.”

But the Communist movement appears to have taken the opportunity to further their revolutionary ideals with Duterte’s declaration of martial rule in Mindanao.

“The necessity of waging revolutionary armed struggle becomes ever clearer. Thus, the New People’s Army (NPA) must be ready to accelerate the recruitment of new Red fighters as Duterte’s martial law convinces more and more people to take up arms against the rotten system,” the CPP statement read.

The CPP also urged “the Filipino people to oppose placing Mindanao under military rule and demand for its immediate lifting on account of human rights abuses committed against the civilians during the nine-year military rule, from 1972 to 1981, under the term of late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.”

Fortunately, neither the GRP and the NDFP have ruffled each other’s feathers enough to boycott the fifth round of the peace talks.

The Communist side said the imposition of martial law and the worsening human rights abuses will be taken up in the fifth round of talks as violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in the talks that will transpire May 27 to June 1.

Dureza likewise addressed doubts that the NDFP negotiators lack the clout and ascendancy to enforce whatever will be agreed upon in the talks when he said that: “There is no question about that. We will no longer go there if they could not bind their team over there.”

“Ang sabi naman nila, it is not they, who decide, it’s the local boys who decide. So we assume that whatever engagement they have with us, they have the clearance of their supposed local leaders,” Dureza said.

He added that the GRP peace panel was still confident that the agreements reached at the peace talks “should be respected by those, who (the NDFP Peace Panel) say are their bosses on the ground.”

Not a few eyebrows were raised when CPP founding chairman and current NDFP Senior Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison admitted to The Manila Bulletin in an exclusive interview from Utrecht, The Netherlands last May 8 that NDFP negotiators who have been dealing with the GRP do not have any control over ground forces, particularly the NPA, which has been advocating a violent takeover of government for the past 49 years.

“The collective leading organs of the CPP, NPA, NDFP, which are based in the Philippines, are the principal of the NDFP Negotiating Panel. They give orders and instructions to the NDFP Negotiating Panel,” Sison said.

And this was confirmed by no less than Duterte, himself, last week when Communist leaders he met with likewise admitted losing control over their cadres on the ground.

“Nag admit sila sa akin sa Malacañang na hindi nila kontrolado lahat ng operating units ng NPA dito. Sorry na lang, patuloy natin. Gawin ko yung five-year term ko, then alis na ko. But that conflict will continue, and that will continue to punish kasi sige lang tayo sa patayan, parehas lang naman tayo mga Pilipino (They admitted to me in Malacanang that they cannot control all the operating units of the NPA here. We’re just too sorry, but we have to continue…we will just go on killing each other when both our sides are Filipinos),” Duterte said.

Duterte reportedly met with the couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Communist movement stalwarts who are now with the NDFP peace panel as panel member and head of the committee on the cessation of hostilities and disposition of firearms, respectively. Reportedly with them was NDFP peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili.

And given that admission by the NDFP negotiators, Duterte was all riled up when he warned NPA commanders that he “will not sign anything,” with regard the peace talks if they continue to attack government troops.
“Do not kill my soldiers. Alam kong madami tayong NPA na nakikinig dyan (I know that there many NPAs listening). Hindi tayo nagkakalayo sa hangarin natin, pero (We do not differ in our aspirations, but) if we don’t stop killing people, hindi din ako (nor will I stop), Duterte said.

Sison’s statement also got Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asking what is the use talking of peace with the NDFP peace panel if it cannot exercise control over combatants on the ground.

“What is the sense in talking to them (NDFP) if they cannot control the NPA?” Lorenzana asked.

But both the GRP and NDFP peace panels are not likely to be bogged down by the uncertain and seemingly tenuous status of the talks.
For one, they are expected to unfold the gains made on negotiations made during face-to-face talks in the Philippines the past five weeks with regard the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms or CASER, which is regarded the backbone of the peace negotiations.

Among these gains will be the agreement for free distribution of land to over one million farmers nationwide.

The GRP peace panel has even said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has given its commitment to protect these farmers when they eventually take over the lands that will be given to them.

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