Govt backs out of talks with Reds

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THE government on Saturday cancelled peace talks with communist rebels, citing their continuing offensives amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

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In a news conference, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza announced that the government would no longer join the fifth round of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) this week.

Last week, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to intensify attacks and resist the martial law declared by the President in Mindanao to crush the Maute terrorist group that attacked Marawi City last Tuesday.

“The serious development of late and which now puts in great jeopardy as to whether or not we can still keep the course of peace in this peace table is the blatant publicly announced decision of Communist Party of the Philippines, the political organ of our counterparts across the table who are here, ordering their forces to accelerate and intensify attacks against the government,” Dureza said in a statement.

The Cabinet official pointed out that the declaration was not aimed at the communists, but “principally directed at extremists and terrorists who openly and defiantly challenged the government and put to harm the Filipino people triggered by the still-ongoing violent incident in the Islamic City of Marawi in Mindanao.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday also said martial law was not intended to attack communist rebels, but nevertheless warned them against illegal activities such as kidnapping, extortion, murder and destruction of property (see story on this page).

Dureza said that “the government panel is now left without any other recourse but to announce, with due respects to our counterparts and to our facilitator, the Royal Norwegian government, that it will not proceed to participate in the scheduled fifth round of peace negotiations” until there is an “enabling environment” for both parties.

“We thank the Royal Norwegian government which has so far steadfastly and fully supported our joint work for peace for so long. I trust it will understand why we at the Philippine government side have arrived at this decision,” he said

“As we always say and we will continue to say so: The road to peace is not a we paved road. It has humps and bumps along the way. But let’s stay the course in this not-so-easy road to peace in our land,” Dureza added.

NDFP senior adviser Luis Jalandoni said earlier on Saturday: “We just got notice that the GRP side is canceling the fifth round of peace negotiations.”

“So we see clearly, it’s their responsibility in doing so because the NDFP side was willing to take up such issues as the human right violations and how these can be remedied,” Jalandoni added.

The fifth round of peace talks was scheduled from Saturday to Thursday, June 1.

It was the second time for the talks to hit a roadblock under the administration of Duterte, who had vowed to pursue peace talks with rebel groups, including communist and Moro rebels.

The President had suspended the talks in February over rebel attacks in Mindanao.

The CPP earlier decried the President’s decision to impose military rule in Mindanao, saying it is part of his “declared plans to establish himself as a strongman.”

The communist group said that Duterte will “surely be emboldened” to expand the one-man rule all over the country, once he secures Congress’ support.

“With Martial law in Mindanao, Duterte has imposed himself as a military ruler ready to ram through the bureaucracy and trample on civilian processes,” the CPP said in a statement.

The communist party thus instructed the NPA to “plan and carry out more tactical offensives across Mindanao and the entire archipelago.”

It also encouraged its armed wing to recruit new rebel fighters as Duterte’s martial law “convinces more people to take up arms against the rotten system.”

But Labor Secretary Silvetre Bello 3rd, the government’s chief peace negotiator, said the CPP’s order was an affront to the government’s sincerity to pursue peace deal with the communist rebels.

“At the very least, it was an insult to the candor and genuineness displayed by the President and the government panel in talking peace. At worse, it betrays the absence of sincerity of the CPP in the negotiating table,” Bello said in a statement.

Bello explained that martial law in Mindanao was sought to restore law and order, protect the lives of the citizens and preserve private and state properties.

He then asked the CPP “to correct its error and recall its senseless order.”

“Against this backdrop, we reaffirm our commitment and remain confident in winning our quest for lasting peace,” Bello said.

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