By Rocky Nazareno
A highly contentious Fourth Round of the Formal Talks between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) came to an end in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, April 6, with both parties agreeing to set into motion mechanisms that will lead to a joint ceasefire agreement, and take a more aggressive stance in forging a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser), which is the backbone of negotiations that could end more than 48 years of armed conflict.
In a joint statement issued at the closing ceremony at the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel, both parties agreed that a “significant step forward” was achieved when they signed an Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire (AIJC) on April 5 that could eventually lead to a total end of hostilities.
“This is another step closer to our dreams. The work has just begun,” said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza.
The two parties explained that they have directed their respective ceasefire committees “to discuss, formulate and finalize the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of the AIJC.”
These guidelines will prove to be the “annexes” in the main AIJC and these will provide for the rules governing “the presence of armed units and elements of both parties in local communities, the creation of buffer zones, the prohibition of hostile and provocative acts, and ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanisms.”
The GRP and NDF agreed that the AIJC will take effect only “upon the approval and signing of these ground rules.”
The AIJC will also be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.
And to comply with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s conditions for the forging of a ceasefire, the issues relating to revolutionary tax and a single government authority “shall be discussed and resolved as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms, within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines.”
The fruits of the fourth round of talks are expected to ripen into more concrete mechanisms when the next episode of the negotiations is held, also in The Netherlands, from May 27 to June 1.
The NDF also agreed to “effect the immediate, safe and expeditious release of Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police elements held captive by the New People’s Army in Eastern Mindanao.”
The two parties announced that the captives held in Soccsksargen will be released before Easter, April 16, and those held in Bukidnon and Caraga after that.