It was a breakthrough both parties worked hard to achieve and one they were both eager to immediately implement.
In a document obtained by GMA News titled “Agreement on a Stand-down for the Resumption of the Formal Peace Talks”, an accord created during backchannel talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the negotiating panels had agreed to a stand-down of their respective armed units in preparation for the resumption of formal peace talks.
It would have been the first time both parties agreed to a cessation of hostilities, bound by a common definition.
In the agreement signed on June 8 in Utrecht, The Netherlands where Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison is currently based, the stand-down was defined as a “temporary cessation of hostilities in which the contending armed units and personnel of the Parties stay where they are ('as is where is'), take an active defense mode, and shall not commit any offensive action or operation against combatants and civilians.”
The agreement further said that the stand-down would "take effect immediately upon its declaration and shall remain effective until replaced by a Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefire (CUC)."
It was signed by GRP Panel Chair and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, his NDFP counterpart Fidel Agcaoili, their members and witnesses including Sison as NDFP chief political consultant and the new Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Ambassador Idun Tvedt.
The stand-down would have taken effect on June 21, a week before the resumption of formal talks on June 28.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte canceled the scheduled talks because he was "not ready" and because the government wanted to hold more consultations with the public.
Further in the document, both panels agreed on nine key points of discussion, including the finalization of an interim peace agreement, an amnesty proclamation accompanied by the releases of political prisoners, and the return of Sison to the Philippines.
These points were among the topics discussed by the GRP Panel when they briefed President Duterte in a meeting last Wednesday evening.
It was in that meeting that the President decided to postpone the resumption of the talks.
According to military sources present during the meeting, quite a few expressed concern over how advanced the back channel talks had progressed, especially because an interim peace agreement was already being discussed.
One source said some officials expressed concern that the implementation of the stand-down agreement would effectively stop their ongoing operations against the New People's Army, something almost all the military officials in the room agreed was going well.
A few days after the postponement of the resumption of talks, the military in the Davao region declared 36 insurgency infected barangays in Davao City and Davao del Norte cleared of communist rebels.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also downplayed Sison's seeming threat of tactical offensives, saying insurgents in the Philippines no longer listened to the CPP founder.
“They are sick and tired of your lies and rhetoric, and are in fact heeding the call of President Duterte to come down and live peaceful lives and they are doing just that. They have been surrendering in droves since November last year,” Lorenzana had said.
Sison, for his part, clarified that he had not ordered a people's war after the government postponed the resumption of talks.
In a statement sent to GMA News, Sison said he was merely making an observation that because the administration was not interested in serious peace negotiations, revolutionaries in the country may have no other choice but to wage a people's war.
NDF Panel Chief Political Consultant Prof. Joma Sison clarifies, he did not order a new war to be waged after President Duterte postponed the resumption of the peace negotiations after both the GRP and NDF agreed on the timetable. #GRPNDFPeaceTalks pic.twitter.com/fZKTjjnPtR— Raffy Tima (@raffytima) June 18, 2018
Furthermore, unlike the first months of the Duterte administration, Sison was now losing hope that a peace agreement would be forged under the incumbency of the self-proclaimed left-leaning president.
Prof. Jose Maria Sison is losing hope that a peace deal will be signed during the incumbency of President Duterte, something the NDF thought was possible when the self proclaimed left leaning president was elected. #GRPNDFPeaceTalks pic.twitter.com/0PwYfiQLB6— Raffy Tima (@raffytima) June 18, 2018
Sison also insisted that he would not go home until after an interim peace agreement was signed in a foreign neutral venue, thus rejecting Duterte's invitation for him to return to the Philippines and hold the negotiations here.
The CPP founder said Duterte would effectively kill the negotiations if he insisted that talks be held in Manila. —DVM/KG/NB, GMA News