Stand-down agreement between gov't, NDFP shows progress in talks

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(L-R) Pres. Rody Duterte, Joma Sison

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — The government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) agreed to temporarily stop all hostilities before they resumed formal peace talks set on June 28.

According to a signed "stand-down" agreement, a copy of which was obtained by CNN Philippines, both parties would "take an active defense mode, and shall not commit any offensive action or operation against combatants or civilians."

The document also warned armed troops and personnel from either side against acting in a manner that could be considered provocative or hostile.

Included in the agreement is a condition for the protection of civilians and their property. A member from each side was supposed to be assigned to a panel that would coordinate on issues related to the implementation of the deal.

"They shall work on measures to prevent the escalation of hostilities that may arise from certain incidents. No retaliatory act shall be taken from either party," the agreement said.

The accord was signed on June 8 in Utrecht, the Netherlands by government panel chair Silvestre Bello III, along with Hernani Braganza, and Angela Librando-Trinidad. NDFP panel chair Fidel Agcaoli, and members Julieta de Lima and Asterio Palma signed for the other side.

The document was set for release by both parties a week before the supposed resumption of the fifth round of peace talks, which was slated on June 28 in Oslo, Norway.

However, on June 14, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the negotiations would "not happen as originally set and as originally announced by the media." He said more consultations with the public were needed.

The NDFP is waiting for representatives from the government to arrive in the Netherlands Sunday to give a more thorough explanation on why the resumption of peace talks was dropped.

Talking peace

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), released a statement Sunday saying the document "shows the seriousness and readiness of both panels to pursue a just peace" and "belies the claim that no progress has come from negotiations held overseas."

Reyes, however, questioned the government's supposed recent decision to hold the talks in the Philippines.

"The big question now is why is the Duterte government suddenly backing out, and undermining the work of its own peace panel? Why impose a new condition of holding talks in the Philippines knowing fully well that this will be rejected by the other side? Why claim that talks in a foreign neutral venue have not yielded results when facts and signed agreements show otherwise?" he asked.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon backed the holding of talks in the country.

"I support the President's decision. The venue of the next round of peace negotiations with the rebel groups should be in the Philippines...It's about time that we change the venue of peace talks with the National Democratic Front and it is about time that it takes place on Philippine soil," he said in a statement on Sunday.

Drilon served as a peace process adviser of the past administrations.

In May, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison said the government and the NDFP were set to sign an interim peace agreement also on June 28, which could lead to peace talks between the both sides.

CNN Philippines Cecille Lardizabal and Pia Garcia contributed to this report.