Backchannel efforts to address the apparent misunderstandings between the government and the communist rebels are ongoing to pave way for the resumption of the cancelled peace talks, Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said on Tuesday.
In a press conference in Malacañang, Dureza revealed that there were backchannel talks with communist rebels but refused to give details.
“The talks, as you know, had been suspended on the fifth round. And the reason for that, as you know, was because according to the President, we need the so-called ‘enabling environment conducive to peace negotiations’. At that time, the assessment was that the environment was not yet conducive to continuing the fifth round,” Dureza told reporters.
“So right now, efforts are ongoing on a backchannel in order to possibly come up with that enabling environment that would make it for us, in the Philippine side, ready to meet again on the fifth round of talks,” he added.
Dureza said there was no definite date as to when the government and the communists group would resume the talks.
“That will happen very soon at an undetermined date and undetermined venue as yet up to today. We’ll prepare if there will be a resumption of the fifth round that we suspended last time. So wala pa po but please know that there is really an ongoing effort,” he said.
Dureza issued a statement a few days after Duterte said he would not allow the talks with the New People’s Army (NPA) to proceed if the rebels would not stop their extortion activities.
“They call it revolutionary tax. Actually, it’s extortion. That’s why we’re in a battle. We will not allow it. I refuse now to resume the talks with them until they stop extortion,” the President said in an interview at Camp Bahian in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
“It’s plain extortion. And if they want to continue to resume the talks, one of the things that I would demand would really be that they stop the extortion activities,” he added.
Dureza said the government peace panels would follow Duterte’s directive regarding the peace talks with the communists.
“Whatever the President says, we take guidance. Kung ‘yun ang sinabi niya, we take guidance from that. That is the reason why probably, I’m not going to preempt the backchannel, that would be one item that our backchannelers will take up with them,” he said.
Duterte first set this condition and three others in April, shortly before the fourth round of peace negotiations.
The fifth round of talks, scheduled for May 27 to June 1, was called off after the government panel refused to participate as a reaction to the rebels’ declaration of intensified offensives under a martial law regime in Mindanao.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, shortly after fighting erupted between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
Silvestre Bello 3rd, government chief negotiator, said on Tuesday the fifth round of talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) was scheduled for August.