Manila: Philippine government negotiators have lamented renewed attacks carried out by communist insurgents, despite ongoing efforts to put peace talks back on track.
In a statement, the government chief negotiator in the talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), Silvestre Bello III, said officials were “saddened” by the raid carried out by New Peoples’ Army (NPA) guerrillas in Makilala, North Cotabato on Monday, as well as the ambush of a police convoy in Malicbong, Abra province in northern Philippines.
A commuter bus was torched in the North Cotabato incident while the ambush in Abra wounded provincial police director Senior Supt Alexander Tagum and four of his men.
It is common for the NPA to carry out attacks on targets of tactical importance during ceasefire period, despite warnings by the government that such actions erode confidence in the peace process and puts into question the sincerity of the rebels in engaging in a negotiated settlement to end the 48-year-old conflict.
Likewise, it also places doubts on whether the communist leadership really exercise control over their units on the ground.
Bello said they had communicated their concern to their counterparts and the insurgents’ peace negotiators vowed to look into the matter.
The attack took place as negotiators from both sides are about to meet in Oslo, Norway, for the continuation of the peace negotiations.
The government of President Rodrigo Duterte is holding its fourth round of negotiations with the communists in April. High on the agenda in the meeting, is the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
Although both sides have observe suspension of hostilities, the NDF---which is the umbrella organisation of the armed communist insurgent groups in the Philippines---have yet to sign a mutual ceasefire pact with the government.
“We believe the fresh wave of NPA assaults will not put in peril our desire to pursue peace. We remain firm and confident that we can still proceed according to the agreement we just signed in Utrecht (Netherlands) to swiftly restore our respective ceasefires while we work on the terms of an interim bilateral ceasefire agreement. In the meantime, we urge combatants to exercise restraint,” said Bello.
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said that he is “disturbed by the atrocities by the NPAs like the recent burning of a bus in Makilala, North Cotabato.”
“There may be other similar incidents of the same nature somewhere else…I have informally raised across the negotiating table the matter of some possible eruption of incidents prior to the effectivity date hence the urgency of an early effectivity announcement considering my previous experience of similar situations in my earlier ceasefire negotiations with other groups with some factions creating disturbances just to show defiance or merely as an attempt of projection of eminence by some of their elements,” he said.
He added that such incidents affect the over-all sentiments of peace- loving citizens who may even raise issues of good faith and may lead to questions as to whether or not rebel groups we are engaging in the peace tables are sincere or have control over their ground forces.”
“Public acceptance (or the lack of it) on the on-going peace process is critical, given the indispensable need of over-all stakeholders’ support to ensure success of our peace,” he said.
The NPA, which is led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been engaged in a 48-year struggle to establish a socialist government based on teachings of Mao Tse Tung.