Rebels willing to work on bilateral ceasefire with government

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 1) Departing from their earlier announcement, the communist rebels on Friday did not restore their unilateral ceasefire declaration, but said they are willing to be flexible over a bilateral ceasefire.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in a statement said this follows the Philippine government's (GRP) "last-minute announcement" not to restore its truce.

The NDFP said the government's move is an "unexpected departure" from the March 11 backchannel agreement that both parties would simultaneously reinstate their ceasefires before the resumption of peace talks on April 2-6 in the Netherlands.

In a separate statement sent to CNN Philippines, NDFP Chairman Fidel Agcaoili said "the revolutionary movement would appear foolish and open to attacks by the AFP (Armed Forces) and PNP (Philippine National Police) should it declare a unilateral ceasefire while the GRP would not."

The NDFP is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which represents rebels in peace talks to end the 48-year-old armed insurgence waged by the New People's Army (NPA).

The CPP earlier said it will declare a truce not later than March 31 to support the resumption of peace talks with the government in April.

However, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, chairman of the government's peace panel, on Friday told reporters the government has "no reason to declare a unilateral ceasefire because our President is more interested in obtaining a bilateral ceasefire agreement."

Also read: Reds, gov't not likely to declare unilateral ceasefire ahead of peace talks

Bello said the ceasefire deal that the government and communist peace panels failed to sign during the third round of negotiations in January, will be on top of the agenda during the resumption of peace talks.

In response, Agcaoili said their negotiating panel is "willing to be flexible and is open to discussing with its counterpart what kind of bilateral ceasefire agreement is desired by the GRP in place of the unilateral ceasefire."

Agcaoili said the communist movement believes finally forging the elusive bilateral ceasefire agreement is possible.

He added their group is willing to work with the GRP to resolve the serious concerns raised over the previous unilateral ceasefires.

The NDFP also said they are fully prepared to work with the GRP on crafting a draft common agreement on socio-economic reforms before the year ends.

"Both parties will continue to hammer out a single joint ceasefire document that will take a longer time to forge in conjunction with the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) and the amnesty and release of all political prisoners as listed by the NDFP," he added.

Restored peace talks

On February 1, the CPP announced an end to its five-month-old ceasefire declaration, which took effect on February 10.

This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cancel the government's ceasefire on February 3, and withdraw from the peace talks with the CPP a day after.

The government and the rebels accused each other of violating their own truce.

Related: AFP, NPA trade faults amid scrapped talks

Duterte even said he now considers the country's biggest communist organization as a terrorist group, including armed wing, the NPA, and its political arm, the NDF. The military has since waged an "all-out war" against the NPA.

After an impasse, the government and NDF peace panels agreed on March 11 to resume formal peace talks in April.

The Duterte government is the sixth administration to talk with the rebels in a bid to end the armed struggle.

CNN Philippines' Digital Producers Ver Marcelo and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.