Duterte gov’t eyes ceasefire with NPA before first SONA

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Government forces and NPA rebels have figured in violent clashes for decades.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – There could be a ceasefire between government forces and the New People’s Army (NPA) as early as next month, the Duterte administration’s chief peace negotiator and incoming Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said Tuesday.

Bello said a truce is possible before President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address on July 25.

He said this was one of the “positive” results of June 13-14 preliminary talks between Duterte’s peace panel and the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Oslo, Norway.

The NDF is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and represents the rebels in the talks.

NDF: Efforts to resume peace talks underway

The two panels signed a joint statement to resume formal peace talks on the third week of July.

“They agreed that after the formal resumption of the talks, both parties will declare a unilateral ceasefire and as a result of this declaration there will be a creation of a monitoring, a ceasefire monitoring committee, to monitor the implementation of this ceasefire,” said Bello, who has previously served in the government peace panel in talks with the NDF.

He added it was the first time in his 14 years in peace negotiations that both sides agreed to discuss the implementation of an interim ceasefire. Bello was chair of the government panel under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The NPA traditionally declares a ceasefire during the Christmas holidays, or limited cessation of hostilities during negotiations for the release of their captives.

Related: CPP-NPA-NDFP declares ceasefire for Christmas season

The rebels in the past have rejected a ceasefire before a comprehensive peace agreement has been signed. The change in tact indicates the rebels are responding positively to Duterte’s peace overtures.

The Duterte government will be the sixth administration to hold talks with the NDF to end the 47-year-old armed struggle.

NPA rebels and government forces have figured in violent clashes since 1969 when the Communist Party’s armed wing was formed.

The first round of talks under President Cory Aquino was marred by the 1987 “Mendiola Massacre,” which killed 13 farmers after a bloody dispersal. That prompted the NDF to walk away from the negotiations.

On-and-off talks followed in the succeeding administrations.

President Benigno Aquino III managed to resuscitate the peace talks in 2011, only to break down again after the government and rebels disagreed on the release of rebel leaders, particularly those identified as consultant in the talks.

Bello described the outcome of the preliminary talks in Norway last week as “positive” because they were able to achieve their goal of convincing the NDF to return to the negotiating table.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong, David Santos, and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.