Bello: Gov't won't launch offensives vs. NPA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 18) — The Philippine government said it will not launch offensives against the New People's Army (NPA) in Mindanao.

This follows a call by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines' (NDFP) to its armed wing, the NPA, to cease attacks in the south on government troops, as it deals with the Marawi crisis.

Government Peace Panel Chairman Silvestre Bello III said Sunday the government welcomes the NDFP's support for the fight against terrorists in Marawi.

The gesture bodes well for the continuation of the fifth round of peace talks put on hold last May 27, Bello added.

"The Philippine government hereby correspondingly reciprocates with the same declaration of not undertaking offensive operations against the New People's Army to pave way for the eventual signing of a mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement and agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces towards a just and lasting peace," he said.

READ: NDFP asks NPA to 'refrain' from attacking gov't forces

The government "unequivocally recommits" its adherence to joint agreements, including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which provides immunity for NDFP consultants involved in the peace process.

Prior to this, the NDFP had also heeded Duterte's call to help fight terrorists in Marawi and directed NPA units "to redeploy for the purpose of mopping-up, holding, and blocking operations."

It also instructed its Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization, its ally in Marawi, "to assume home defense tasks against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups."

READ: Communist rebels deploying NPA fighters in Marawi

The Marawi crisis, which prompted President Duterte to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao, is nearing one month of combat this week. Fifty-nine government troops, including 56 military troops and three members of the Philippine National Police have been killed.

Bello said the NDFP's solidarity with the government provides, if sustained, an "enabling environment" for the peace talks to push through.

"These voluntary gestures and expressions from the NDF in solidarity with government against acts of terrorism augur well for the desired continuation of the stalled 5th round of peace talks," he said.

The Philippine government put peace talks on hold last May 27, citing the Communist Party of the Philippines' supposed order for its ground forces to intensify attacks against the government following the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

5 NPA killed in Davao military encounters

But reports of attacks on Sunday in Visayas and Mindanao by the NPA seemed to mar efforts for a ceasefire from both parties.

In Maasin, Iloilo, the military said alleged members of the NPA raided a police station on Sunday, handcuffing police and stealing firearms, cash, jewelry and a laptop before fleeing in a patrol car.

Soldiers from the 28th Infantry Battalion in Banay-banay, Davao Oriental also recovered high-powered firearms and subversive documents after a 45-minute encounter with armed men believed to be from the NPA on Sunday/

Meanwhile, in Davao City, suspected members of the NPA's Southern Mindanao Regional Command were reported to have fired upon a convoy of the military's 3rd Infantry Battalion.

On Saturday five members of the NPA were killed in two separate firefights with military troops in Davao.

The military said three NPA members were killed in a 45-minute firefight in Cateel, Davao Oriental around 1:30 a.m. on Monday. Government troops also killed a secretary of the NPA and another member at Brgy. Araibo, Pantukan noon on the same day.

READ: 5 NPA members killed in Davao military encounters

Dureza: Iloilo attack must be dealt with accordingly

At his visit to evacuees in Iligan on Sunday, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said it may take time for such developments to reach the lower levels, adding the government just reciprocated the NDFP's declaration on Sunday.

"They just issued a statement and it's only this noon that we have accepted it and welcomed it so don't be in a hurry. It's not like electricity where you switch off the switch and everything is off or switch on. It takes also building of trust and confidence." he said.

However, in a later statement issued Monday, the peace adviser also said the Maasin was not covered by the NDFP and government directives against offensives, and must be dealt with.

"Since the latest statements of the National Democratic Front and the government  to mutually refrain from taking offensive operations against each other cover only Mindanao, and since there is yet no mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement in place nationwide, the NPA attack in Maasin, iloilo and elsewhere must be dealt with  accordingly and decisively by the AFP  and the PNP with the cooperation of civilian agencies and the affected communities," Dureza said.

Dureza also lamented the negative effects the attacks may have on the peace negotiations, but said he hopes they are merely part of the 'birth pains' of initiatives to stop military actions between the two parties.

AFP Spokesperson Brig. General Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines the military hopes to see positive developments following the declarations.

"We hope to see less of this if they really want to show sincerity with the peace talks," he said Sunday.

He said in a press briefing on Monday that the military is awaiting the peace panel's recommendation in response to the NDFP directive, and that it will comply.

Padilla, however, branded the NPA attack in Maasin as "very opportunistic," happening at a time when their forces were spread thin.

"They do this intentionally because of --- their objective is to get more arms. And one of the reasons they did the attack in Maasin, we know, is because many of our troops went to help in Mindanao," he said.

CNN Philippines'  Camille Abadicio contributed to this report.

This story was updated to include Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and AFP Spokesperson Brig. General Restituto Padilla's statements on the NPA attack in Maasin, Iloilo.