Aquino gets her cease-fire
Manila — The government and Communist guerrillas agreed this past week to a 60-day cease-fire -- their first nationwide truce since the insurgency began 17 years ago. The pact, announced by both sides, was scheduled to be signed Nov. 27 and to take effect Dec. 10. President Corazon Aquino had earlier set a Nov. 30 deadline for the rebels to accept a cease-fire.
``Both sides won the war,'' said Ramon Mitra, the chief government negotiator. ``We gained a new phase in the life of our country. It's something we both longed for, and the President had wanted all along since she decided to seek the presidency.''
Mr. Mitra said that he had informed Mrs. Aquino of the agreement and that she had congratulated the panel.
Satur Ocampo, a negotiator for the Communist-dominated National Democratic Front (NDF), said the two sides agreed to meet 30 days after the signing to begin talks on substantive issues, including land reform and human rights.
He said the draft of the agreement provided for a possible extension of the truce and contained a guarantee that guerrilla negotiators will not be arrested.
The draft does not require the guerrillas or the military to withdraw from positions they hold, Mr. Ocampo said. The NDF previously made it a condition of a cease-fire that the military withdraw from positions the rebels consider under their control.
The two sides have been negotiating since August. They met for eight hours Nov. 25.
The NDF, which represents the Communist Party and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA), originally wanted a 100-day cease-fire. The government proposed a 30-day truce, subject to extension if both sides agreed.
Muslim guerrillas who want a separate state on southern Mindanao Island have been fighting the government for 14 years. The government announced Nov. 25 that one Muslim group, the Moro National Liberation Front, agreed to begin cease-fire talks by early January.
These developments followed the Nov. 23 resignation of Juan Ponce Enrile as defense minister. Mr. Enrile had repeatedly criticized Aquino for not being tough enough in dealing with the Communists.
Asked whether Enrile's departure had an effect on the talks, Ocampo said: ``It did not make much difference to us because we are not sure something major has changed in the armed forces.''
But Tony Zumel, another NDF negotiator, said he detected ``a sense of optimism'' in the government after Enrile's departure.
Mr. Zumel said the cease-fire would not automatically end the insurgency.
``The cease-fire was intended to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence between our two parties and set up the proper atmosphere for our talks on substantive questions,'' he said.
Mitra and another negotiator, Teofista Guingona, presented their cease-fire proposal to Defense Minister Rafael Ileto, Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and the chiefs of the army, navy and air force on Nov. 26.
``Definitely the military will support the position taken by the [government negotiating] panel,'' said Gen. Eduardo Ermita, deputy chief of staff.
Mitra said the military leaders were briefed because they ``are the ones, after all, who will help in the implementation of the agreement.''
Military commanders have said they support the idea of a cease-fire but had misgivings about elements of a plan offered by the rebel representatives last month, including a proposed 100-day truce.
Armed forces sources have said the military wanted guarantees the rebels would not use the time to resupply their 23,500 fighters.
In other developments, presidential spokesman Teodoro Benigno said that two to four ministers were to be replaced when Aquino announced her new Cabinet on Nov. 28.
All Cabinet members handed in their resignations on Nov. 23 after officials said the military blocked a coup bid by disaffected officers associated with Enrile.
Enrile's resignation was immediately accepted and Ileto appointed to replace him.
The newspaper Malaya said Aquino was considering retiring Ramos from the military and naming him to the public works or natural resources ministries, which have been targets of corruption allegations.
Government officials credit Ramos with blocking the weekend coup attempt.