The Philippine government on Wednesday cancelled the scheduled back-channel talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) after the New People’s Army (NPA) ambushed a convoy of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in Arakan town, North Cotabato on Wednesday.
Five PSG men were injured and a militiaman was killed in the ambush.
The NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, also killed two Marines in Palawan on the same day.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced the cancellation of the informal talks that were supposed to be held this month.
“I am announcing the cancellation of back-channel talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF originally set within the next few days in Europe due to recent developments involving attacks done by the NPAs,” Dureza said in a statement.
“The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still not present up to this time,” he added.
The communist party, which is waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency, called on the NPA to launch offensives in response to Duterte’s plan to extend martial law in Mindanao.
In a statement released to the media on Wednesday, Malacañang said the President told the government peace panel that formal talks with the communist group will not resume until the NPA stops attacking state troops.
Duterte gave the instruction when he met with officials and members of the government peace panel in Malacañang on Tuesday night.
The Palace said Duterte held the meeting to discuss the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with communist rebels on the scheduled fifth round of talks in August.
“During their meeting held at Malacañan Palace, the President directed the government panel negotiating with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) not to resume formal peace talks unless the Reds agree to stop their attacks against government troops in Mindanao,” the Palace said.
The President said the communist rebels should refrain from fighting the government troops in Mindanao.
“The Reds really need to stop engaging the military in Mindanao if they want to continue the peace negotiations, adding that the government has always dealt with the communist rebels in good faith,” Duterte said.
The President earlier said there would be no peace negotiations unless the communist group stops collecting revolutionary taxes.
The fifth round of talks between the government peace panel and NDF consultants was initially set for May 27 to June 1 but it was cancelled.
Chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello 3rd earlier announced that the talks would resume in August.
Dureza, in an interview, said that Duterte approved of the back-channel talks with the NDF to discuss the resumption of formal negotiations between the two groups.
The resumption of formal talks will depend on the communist group’s commitment to suspend hostile acts against state forces and stop its extortion activities.
At least five members of the PSG were injured when they were fired upon by armed men disguised as soldiers in Arakan town, North Cotabato at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, officials said.
The victims were on their way to Davao City, where the President will spend the weekend.
Communications Secretary Martin Andana had said Duterte will rehearse his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Davao on Sunday. The President will deliver his second SONA on Monday, July 24, before a joint session of Congress at the House of Representatives.
Cotabato provincial police director Senior Supt. Emmanuel Peralta said the presidential guards were ambushed by around 150 gunmen. The rebels, clad in military uniform, blocked the road and opened fire on the convoy.
The attackers also killed a militiaman identified as Ben Padia while fleeing.
A team of soldiers and policemen were immediately deployed to hunt down the rebels.
Wednesday’s incident is the second time that PSG members were attacked in Mindanao.
Eight months ago, presidential guards were also ambushed in Marawi City. Seven were injured in the attack.
Also on Wednesday, two members of the Philippine Marine Corps were shot dead by suspected members of the NPA in Barangay Magara, Roxas, Palawan.
Capt. Cheryl Tindog, spokesman for the military’s Western Command, said the two Marines, were unarmed and not in uniform when shot dead at a wet market.
“These are their signature attacks whenever they are desperate,” she said.
WITH MOH SAADUDIN DEMPSEY REYES AND JERRY ADLAW