A group of women calls for the resumption of peace negotiations during a Women's Day march in Manila. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
The Philippine government and communist rebels have agreed to resume peace talks next month following calls from various groups and an escalation in armed clashes in recent weeks.
In a joint statement released on March 12, government and rebel peace negotiators announced that they would reinstate their respective unilateral ceasefires before talks begin in the first week of April.
Representatives from both sides met in the Netherlands last week to pave the way for a resumption of negotiations.
The peace talks, which aim to end almost five decades of armed conflict, collapsed in February after both sides lifted their respective unilateral ceasefires following a disagreement over rebel demands for the release of political prisoners.
On Feb. 3, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was scrapping the peace talks and instructed government negotiators to "fold up their tents and come home."
The president said he already gave the rebels "all the leeway" but they continued to commit atrocities. "Peace with the communists might not come in this generation," said the president.
But calls from various groups, including church leaders, convinced negotiators to hold "back door" talks in Utrecht on March 10 and 11.
Both sides said they would hold further meetings to agree on rules, guidelines, and mechanisms for an "interim bilateral ceasefire" during the negotiations.
They agreed to also take into consideration issues raised since talks started in August last year, including the release of rebel consultants arrested after the talks failed.
Peace during Lent
The negotiators couldn't have picked a better time to resume the talks.
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said Filipinos would welcome a "break from fighting" especially during the Lenten season.
The legislator said a Holy Week ceasefire will give soldiers and rebels the opportunity to reunite with their love ones.
"We don’t want the solemnity of Lent broken by needless bloodletting," said Recto. "Our people have spoken loud and clear, we need to stop this violence," he added.
The senator said a ceasefire would also allow both sides to focus on "substantive issues" in the negotiations, such as socio-economic and political reforms that address the root causes of the conflict.
Peace groups welcomed the resumption of talks, saying it is "a positive answer to the people's clamor for peace" but expressed concern over a Duterte order to attack rebel positions.
The president announced that he was "ready for all-out war" following the killing of policemen in an armed encounter with communist guerrillas.
"This time I'm using everything ... rockets and bombs," said Duterte at a cadet graduation ceremony at the Philippine Military Academy on March 12.
Peace negotiations between the government and the rebels began in 1986 during the administration of Corazon Aquino. It was followed by nearly three decades of talks that ended in failure.