National Democratic Front consultant Benito Tiamzon. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/davaotoday.com)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Once the government clinches bilateral ceasefire, it is likely to lose interest in pursuing fundamental social reforms.

“From the start that is the most significant objective of the government, to stop the fighting in whatever way,” said National Democratic Front consultant Benito Tiamzon during a peace forum on Saturday afternoon at the University of the Immaculate Conception here.

But he said “the needed reforms cannot be addressed without confronting the foreign powers and the oligarchs who have benefitted from the current status quo.”

He said the fighting may stop temporarily by a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

“However, without addressing the root cause of the armed struggle, fighting may again erupt and this time  it may be wider and intense,” Tiamzon said.

For his part, government peace negotiator Atty. Antonio Arellano told participants in the Saturday forum  that unless a bilateral ceasefire agreement is signed, there is “technically” no violation of the unilateral ceasefire declaration declared by both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“Until the bilateral agreement can be made by two parties, you cannot technically say there are violations of the ceasefire,” said the GRP peace panel member.

He said the unilateral ceasefire declarations of both parties were declared by each party and “not as a matter of agreement,” clarifying that any reported violation would be just “a violation of each organizations’ own rules of engagement.”

He said this is why the government is hoping that a bilateral ceasefire agreement is reached by two parties to define what actions can be considered as violative of the agreement.

Tiamzon said the “mutual unilateral and indefinite ceasefires” were declared to primarily build goodwill between the two parties during the resumption of the formal talks.

“The unilateral ceasefire (orders) were carried out basically to create goodwill and mutual confidence between the two parties. But the way we see it, the expansion of militarization is fundamentally in violation of the spirit of the ceasefire,” Tiamzon said.

He said the military’s operation in villages and the carrying out of the peace and development operations (PDOPs) are essentially clearing operations and base denial operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Its aim is to destroy suspected mass base of the New People’s Army,” Tiamzon said.

Tiamzon said military troops occupy villages and threatens civilians.

“If the AFP troops are in the villages, they are not treated as friends by the residents; instead villagers live in fear and their activities are affected,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte first ordered the unilateral ceasefire with the communists during his State of the Nation Address in June. Duterte withdrew his declaration after five days following a skirmish between the NPA and members of the Cafgu Active Auxiliary in July.

It was later restored on August 21, on the eve of the first round of the peace talks with the NDF in Oslo, Norway.

On August 28, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Operational Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) declared an interim ceasefire to all commands and units of the NPA and people’s militias.

In the August 26 Joint Statement of the GRP and NDF, the ceasefire committees of both Parties were tasked to “reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral agreement within 60 days” from August 26.

Until now, both parties have not yet come up with a consensus on the definition of terms and conditions including the definition of the hostile act, the buffer zones, and who constitutes the monitoring team.

In August 26, Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero said that the ceasefire will help them in the implementation of PDOP in far flung communities.

“Now that a ceasefire with the CPP-NPA is in effect, we expect that the implementation of the government’s peace and development programs in the countryside will be able to proceed much faster providing the much needed services to even the remotest barangay,” he said.

He said the PDOP program promotes partnerships of efforts between the Philippine Army and the Provincial Government and its Local Government Unit’s (LGUs).(davaotoday.com)

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