FOUR months after peace talks with the communists collapsed, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday urged the rebel group to declare a ceasefire to resume negotiations.
Speaking in Digos City, Davao del Sur, Duterte said he was ready to resume talks if the communist rebels, represented by the National Democratic Front (NDF), were also prepared to declare a truce.
“Gusto ninyo balikan ang [If you want to resume] peace talks, you declare ceasefire or nothing. And if you say you want another war, be my guest,” Duterte said in remarks during the 17th anniversary of the cityhood of Digos, just outside Davao City where he used to be mayor.
“There will be no talks until you declare a ceasefire,” the President added.
The once cordial relations between Duterte and the communists have further deteriorated with the rejection of the Cabinet appointments of two NDF nominees, Judy Taguiwalo for social welfare and Rafael Mariano for agrarian reform, by the President’s congressional allies.
On May 27, the government peace panel withdrew from the fifth round of peace talks with the rebels in the Dutch city of Noordwijk.
This was after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to step up attacks on security forces in response to Duterte’s declaration of martial law in all of Mindanao following the terrorist attack on Marawi City on May 23.
Later, the CPP offered to send the NPA to fight alongside the military against the terrorists in Marawi, but Duterte spurned the offer.
After terminating the peace talks, Duterte called the communists terrorists and ordered the arrest of NDF consultants temporarily freed for the peace talks in Oslo, Norway and Rome, Italy.
Duterte had wanted a bilateral ceasefire agreement stipulating common rules of engagement for the military and the NPA.
But the NDF demanded the release of about 400 detained rebels before agreeing to sign such a deal.
A stalement ensued when Duterte said he would release some, not all, rebel prisoners after the signing of a bilateral ceasefire deal.
Earlier on Friday, Malacañang was hopeful leftist party-list groups would remain the ally of the Duterte administration after the bloc indicated its readiness to pull out from the majority coalition in Congress.
“We do hope the Makabayan bloc will stay with the administration and the House majority,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press conference.
“However, if they do decide to go, we wish them well and we hope that they will remain open to working together with others on issues of shared interest,” he added.
The Makabayan bloc, a group of left-leaning members of the House of Representatives, on Thursday said it was ready to cut ties with the Duterte administration after the Commission on Appointments rejected the appointments of Taguiwalo and Mariano as secretaries of social welfare and agrarian reform, respectively.
The NDF recommended Taguiwalo and Mariano to President Duterte last year as part of confidence-building measures to restart peace talks.
Although Mariano and Taguiwalo are no longer in the Cabinet, former Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza remains lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission and former Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon is head of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor. Former Anakpawis party-list Rep. Joel Maglunsod is also an undersecretary at the Department of Labor and Employment.
On Thursday, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Duterte’s “anti-people, pro-imperialist and fascist” actions and policies have destroyed his alliance with the national democratic Leftist movement.
“We are now inclined to recommend at the National Executive Committee meeting of Makabayan next week to pull out from the alliance with the Duterte administration,” Zarate said in a new conference.