MANILA — The government and Communist guerrillas today agreed to a 60-day cease-fire--their first nationwide truce since the insurgency began 17 years ago.
The pact, which was announced by both sides, is to be signed Thursday and will take effect Dec. 10. President Corazon Aquino had set a Sunday 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 (that) the president had wanted all along since she decided to seek the presidency."
Satur Ocampo, a negotiator for the Communist-dominated National Democratic Front, said the two sides agreed to meet 30 days after the signing to begin talks on substantive issues. He said the second phase of the talks will cover human rights, durable peace and national dignity and sovereignty--including a Communist demand for the dismantling of strategic U.S. military bases in the Philippines, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.
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, Ocampo said. The Democratic Front previously made it a condition of a cease-fire that the military withdraw from positions the rebels consider under their control.
The front, which represents the Communist Party and its military wing, the New People's Army, originally wanted a 100-day cease-fire. The government proposed a 30-day truce, subject to extension if both sides agreed.
Mitra said the military was "receptive" to the peace pact and had been consulted throughout the nearly four months of talks.
"It's safe to say they were pleased," he said of the armed forces, who earlier were reported unenthusiastic about the idea of a cease-fire.
According to official estimates, about 2,000 people have been killed in clashes between the guerrillas and the military since Aquino took power in February.
Conclusion of the accord signaled another major triumph for Aquino, who Sunday fired her rebellious defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile after a coup plot by officers sharing his strongly anti-Communist stand.
"I think her hold on the armed forces has tremendously improved since the Enrile days," rebel emissary Antonio Zumel said.