By Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, March 24 (Xinhua) -- While the Philippine government is set to sign a peace accord with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, the chances of concluding a similar peace deal with the Communist Party of the Philippines ( CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), have become nil.
The refusal of the government to release the two captured leaders of the CPP-NPA, Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, as demanded by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) , has made the resumption of the talks almost impossible.
The NDFP, the political arm of the CPP-NPA, has called on the government to release the two, saying that they are NDFP consultants and are entitled to immunity from arrest.
Tiamzon, who is chairman of both the CPP and the NPA, and his wife, the CPP secretary general, were captured by the Philippine military on Saturday in a remote village in Cebu province in central Philippines along with five top aides.
The Tiamzons, who were in hiding for 20 years, were blamed for their alleged role in the murder of 15 civilians in Inopacan, Leyte province in central Philippines. The victims were buried in a mass grave that was discovered in 2006.
Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that with the arrest of the Tiamzons, the rest of the leadership of the CPP-NPA should "come to grips with reality."
"They should see the writing on the wall, the desire of the Filipino people, the collective will of the Filipino people.. that we have been longing for peace," Bautista said Sunday.
Bautista described Tiamzon as the one who "directs the armed struggle all over the country, who directs all the land mining, the killings, the violence perpetrated by the NPA."
But exiled CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison said that the arrests would not cripple the revolutionary movement in the Philippines " because the roots of the armed revolution remained."
Sison, now an NDFP consultant and based in Utrecht in the Netherlands, charged that Aquino "is more interested in imprisoning a few NDFP consultants and prejudicing the peace negotiations by violating existing agreements like the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
He said that if the Aquino administration no longer respected the JASIG, signed by the NDFP and the government, "then Mr. Aquino becomes responsible for killing the peace negotiations."
When he assumed the presidency in 2010, President Benigno Aquino III vowed to work out a peace agreement with the MILF and the CPP-NPA.
But it seems that he is more successful in cooling the Muslim rebellion than the communist insurgency in the country.
Despite the arrests, the president's peace adviser Teresita Deles said the government remained open to resuming peace talks with the communist rebels.
Deles said that the arrest of the Tiamzons does not change the basic stance of the government that peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA "can proceed only with a clear and time-bound agenda that provide some possibility of bringing us closer to a final peace agreement."
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the problem in the aborted talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP was not with the government.
"Our government is ready (to resume peace negotiations), but they are the ones putting up obstacles so the peace talks won't move forward," Lacierda told a press briefing on Sunday.
The NDFP has been engaged in peace negotiations with the government for the past 27 years, but the talks have not moved beyond minor agreements.
Negotiators of the government and the NDFP held their last meeting in Norway in February 2011 when they failed to reach an agreement particularly on issues over the release of detained communist rebels and long ceasefire.
In May last year, the government peace panel announced the termination of the peace negotiation and blamed on the NDFP's preconditions and demands.
According to the military, the guerrillas of the NPA have dwindled to about 4,000 from more than 26,000 in the late 1980s. But NPA debunked this claim, saying that their presence is felt in almost all regions in the country.
As if to prove its strength, the NPA has lately staged coordinated attacks and ambuscades against government troops, particularly in the rural areas.