MANILA, Philippines — Negotiators of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines urged their government counterparts “to come back to the negotiating table and realize the fifth round of formal talks as soon as possible.”
“In this connection, all panelists, legal and political consultants and other personnel in the peace negotiations must be allowed to return to the Philippines and subsequently attend the fifth round of formal talks,” Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the rebel panel, said in a statement.
Agcaoili also suggested a ceasefire agreement “in specific areas of cooperation and coordination … pending the issuance of ceasefire declarations that are unilateral but simultaneous and reciprocal.”
Earlier, the government panel refused to participate in the fifth round of talks, supposed to start June 26 in The Netherlands, after the Communist Party of the Philippines ordered the New People’s Army to intensify attacks in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law over the whole of Mindanao.
On Wednesday, Duterte, angered by the CPP order, threatened to have NDFP negotiators and consultants, most of who are out on bail, arrested when they return to the country.
In calling for the realization of the fifth round of talks, Agcaoili said the government and NDFP “must act in consonance with the Filipino people’s clamor for peace negotiations and their demand for social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace.”
“Preparations for the fifth round of formal talks must be undertaken through bilateral teams of the GRP (Goverment of the Republic of the Philippines) and NDFP so that precious time is not lost,” he added.
At the same time, he said both sides “must stand together to oppose and fight terrorism, terrorist groups and acts of terrorism.”
“We must condemn and must be resolved and determined to counteract the Maute group and Abu Sayaff which are wreaking havoc in Marawi City,” he said.
“By terrorism we mean actions that intimidate, terrorize and harm civilians solely or mainly in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he added.
Agcaoili claimed the local extremists, aside from being affiliated with the Islamic State, are also “linked to local reactionary forces” and “supported by US-CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and other foreign entities.”
Nevertheless, Agcaoili warned against government overreach, saying: “The level of counteraction against terrorism, as well as the nature, scope and duration must be appropriate and proportional to the degree of danger and threat and/or harm by the terrorist group concerned in Marawi City.”
“Upon the success of the counter-terrorist measures, these must cease to allow normalcy and full respect for human rights as soon as possible,” he stressed.