Gov't, rebels exerting efforts to continue peace talks

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(CNN Philippines, May 28) — It was an announcement many did not see coming.

The government peace panel announced on Saturday that it was withdrawing from negotiations with communist rebels, technically putting peace talks on hold.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said, "The government panel, as I now state, is now left without any recourse...that it will not proceed to participate in the scheduled fifth rounds of peace negotiations."

Just hours before the start of the latest round of peace talks, the government panel says it is backing out.

"Until such time, there are clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace in the land...shall prevail," Dureza said.

In a statement, the GPH panel cites a number of reasons to withdraw from the negotations.

The latest, the order of the communist movement to step up attacks against government forces in response to the martial law declaration in Mindanao.

Secretary Silvestre Bello, chairman of the government peace panel, said it was "not in keeping with the framework of the peace talks, and its for both parties to provide an atmosphere conducive to the conduct of a peace negotiation."

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Sunday, Bello clarified that the democratic front had requested for time to get orders from Communist Party of the Philippines founder Joma Sison to withdraw their call of intensified attacks against government.

"We're waiting for feedback if their forces will follow the directive of Joma Sison, and then withdraw their call for intensified attacks against government. Then this may justify our panel in proceeding with the formal talks," Bello said.

Bello added that the government added demands from the democratic front that they are not yet at liberty to reveal.

Hernani Braganza, a member of the peace panel, said, "Malinaw naman yung kalaban e, extremism, terrorism, di ho ba? E nakakalungkot dahil si Manong Jo, humihingi ng reconsideration sa kanilang tropa, 'yun ang hinihingi, hinihintay na resulta."

[Translation: It's clear that the enemies are involved in estremism and terrorism. It's sad because Mr. Jo (Jose Ma. Sison) is asking for consideration for his troops, that's what we're waiting for.]

The government earlier pointed out martial law will not "target specifically" the New People's Army (NPA), as security forces address the crisis in Marawi.

The bulk of the NPA's operations are currently in Mindanao.

National Democratic Front Chairman Fidel Agcaoili said, "We have already submitted our recommendation to the leadership of the CPP to reconsider its call for further intensification of military offensive."

The peace panels are supposed to continue discussions to agree on a joint ceasefire on the fifth round of talks in the Netherlands, initially set from May 27 to June 1, 2017.

During the last round of talks, they only managed to forge an interim agreement. Terminologies and ground rules that will define the joint ceasefire appear very contentious.

Another carry-over agenda in the latest round are the Provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Sociao-Economic Reforms, or CASER.

CASER is just among a number of major agreements the panels have yet to sign leading to a final poluitical agreement.

It tackles, among several sticky issues, national industrialization and a more extensive land reform.

Still being discussed are agreements on Political and Constitutional Reforms, and End of Hostilities/Disposition of Forces.

As of press time, the government and NDF panels are still holding informal meetings in the Netherlands on the possibility to pursue the fifth round of talks.

CNN Philippines' Digital Producer Chad de Guzman contributed to this report.