Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday that he would only support the resumption of the fifth round of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) if its armed wing would drop the practice of any form of “extortion.”
Quoting President Rodrigo Duterte, Lorenzana claimed that there would be no resumption of peace talks unless the New People’s Army (NPA) would stop their extortion activities in several parts of the country.
“The President released guidelines when we were in Malaybalay [on Thursday]. He said ‘no resumption of peace talks unless the NPA stop its extortion.’ I fully support that. I think that is very clear,” he told reporters in a text message, referring to Duterte’s visit to the 403rd Infantry Brigade in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
On Tuesday, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, Philippine government peace panel chairman, said that the talks would resume by the second or third week of August in Japan, as suggested by the NDFP.
Government troops and communist rebels were supposed to have an agreement for a bilateral ceasefire on May 27 but negotiations were suspended after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the umbrella organization of the NPA and the NDFP, ordered the NPA to intensify its attacks as a way of resisting Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
The defense chief said asking the NPA to stop their “extortion” activities would be an essential condition for a bilateral ceasefire and resumption of peace negotiations.
“For my part, I have been advocating a bilateral ceasefire which includes ‘no extortion’ as a sine qua non for peace talks,” Lorenzana stressed.
President Rodrigo Duterte is the sixth chief executive whose administration will be engaging communist rebels in peace talks to end the 48-year-old insurgency. DEMPSEY REYES