THE Philippine government has formally cancelled peace talks with the communists following recent attacks by their armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, announced the cancellation on Wednesday, citing the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte has said he was no longer inclined to resume peace talks with the communists rebels, whom he branded as “terrorists” and “criminals.”
“We are hereby announcing today the cancellation of all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDF in line with President Duterte’s directive that there will be no more peace talks with them,” Dureza said in a statement.
“Recent tragic and violent incidents all over the country committed by the communist rebels left the President with no other choice but to arrive at this decision. We take guidance from the President’s recent announcements and declarations,” he added.
CPP is the Communist Party of the Philippines, which controls the NPA and the NDF or the National Democratic Front, which had negotiated with the government.
Duterte, a former student of CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, had sought an end to the nearly five-decade-long Maoist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
But in his visit to soldiers Tuesday, Duterte announced the end of talks with the NPA following their string of attacks that have affected civilians.
The President also threatened to shut down mining firms that give revolutionary taxes to the rebels, seen as a form of extortion by the military, which allows the mining firms to be spared from the rebels’ attacks.
On Wednesday, the President said in remarks before the military in Nueva Ecija that he would order the arrest of all rebels, including their “legal fronts helping to topple the government and sow terror.”
“I will no longer recognize them as an entity negotiating with the government. I will simply declare you all terrorists. Terorista kayo. At yung mga legal front ninyo, alam ko, huwag na lang tayong magbolahan galing ako diyan (You’re terrorists and even your legal fronts are terrorists, I know. Let’s not fool each other, I’ve been there),” the President said.
“You are helping each other, conspiring to topple or whatever to sow terror. We will treat you as a criminal. Period. And we will arrest everybody connected, maski yung (even their) legal fronts,” he added.
Militant lawmakers lamented the President’s decision.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said the cancellation of the government’s peace talks would not resolve the root causes of the armed rebellion.
“That is precisely why peace talks must proceed because the two sides are at war. The no ceasefire, no peace talks policy being pushed by the militarist elements in the Cabinet or a localized talks practically negates the inherent purpose of a peace negotiation,” Zarate said.
Zarate also said peace could be attained with the rebels if the government dealt with the peace talks at the national level, and implemented “genuine” agrarian reform and national industrialization.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago claimed in a statement the cancellation of the peace talks would only further the United States and the Duterte administration’s “all-out war approach.”
Dureza said Duterte had taken “unprecedented steps” in trying to bring peace, but “the Communist Party and its armed elements have not shown reciprocity.”
Duterte already halted talks with the rebels in July following a series of NPA attacks against government forces. He said he would not resume the talks unless the rebels stopped their extortion activities.
The fifth round of talks brokered by Norway was suspended on May 27 after the government panel withdrew from the negotiating table in response to the communist group’s order to guerrillas to intensify attacks against security forces amid the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.
In an interview with the government-run PTV network in September, the President said the resumption of the talks would just be a waste of money.
A number of senators supported the decision of President Duterte to cancel peace talks with the communist rebels.
Senators Ralph Recto, Francis Escudero and Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th said the CPP-NPA-NDF must honor a ceasefire with government forces. But they were hopeful the peace process could be saved with backchannel talks.
“If I had my way, be a little more patient and do backchannel talks. But I respect the call of the President. I am not the President,” said Recto.
Aquino reiterated that all peace talks must be done in good faith. “We trust the military, of course, to make the necessary readings on the matter. We want peace. But in any type of peace talks, both parties need to be of good faith,” he said.
with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO