DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The National Democratic Front of the Philippines confirmed that they are engaging in backchannel talks with the government in a bid to revive the terminated peace negotiations.
Fidel V. Agcaoili, Chairperson of NDFP peace panel said both sides agreed to hold secret backchannel talks as early as the first week of February but he refused to give further details.
Agcaoili said the objective of the backchannel “is to bring about the continuation of the talks in order to hold the scheduled fourth round in April to discuss important matters.”
“For some reason, these have been delayed till now. In this regard, we have kept our end of the bargain not to reveal the plans or issue any statement that would upset these,” he said in a statement Thursday.
In an interview in Malacañang Tuesday, March 7, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that the government is in backchannel talks with the communists.
“Well, ano lang (let’s just), hang on, hang on kasi (because) – do not spoil. Well, I must admit there’s a backchanneling,” he said.
Agcaoili said the backchannel talks include discussions on the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees which gives negotiators and those who participate in the negotiations immunity guarantees. The government announced the termination of JASIG, three days after President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace negotiations last month. The parties will also discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms, two of the four substantive agenda in the peace negotiations.
The government and the NDFP have concluded the successful third round of talks on January 25 in Rome, Italy.
However, the peace talks was terminated by President Duterte on February 4 in response to the Communist Party of the Philippines’ lifting of its unilateral ceasefire that was yet to take effect nine days after the announcement due to alleged government human rights violations and “encroachment” on guerrilla bases.
Duterte, meanwhile, condemned attack on government troops by the NPAs. The recent killing of four police in Bansalan town Davao del Sur was also blamed on the communists.
Agcaoili said they have yet to confirm whether the NPA was responsible for the attack.
“We still have to confirm if this was done by the NPA command in the area. There are peace spoilers around,” he said.
Agcaoili also said there is no ceasefire in place at the moment “and that AFP and PNP troops have been going into villages and violating people’s rights in their combat and intelligence operations, including murderous Tokhang operations.”
He added that the NPAs too have suffered casualties in military operations.
“Also, the NPA recently suffered casualties of four dead in a raid by the military’s 2nd Jungle Fighter Company on 7 March in San Andres, Quezon province, as well as in other places,” he said.
Meanwhile, Agcaoili said the release of government troops held as prisoners by the NPAs was supposed to take place as early as March 2.
He said the release of the POWs has been approved by the revolutionary leadership.
“Discussions have been going on since between third party peace facilitators and the GRP Panel. The POWs should have been released as early as March 2, but arrangements on their safe and orderly release, as well as those of the third party peace facilitators, local government officials, ICRC representatives and the custodial forces, have still to be worked out,” he said