The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday threw its support behind localized peace talks with communist rebels after President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to cancel negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
AFP Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero issued a statement a day after the military’s declaration of all-out offensives against the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), through “focused operations.”
“The AFP supports the decision of the President to cancel talks with the CPP, NPA and NDF, and to go ‘all out’ against the NPA terrorists,” Guerrero said in a statement on Saturday.
“The AFP also supports peace initiatives by our local elected officials including programs that seek to integrate NPAs back to mainstream society,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero defended Duterte after CPP founder Jose Maria Sison’s statement that the President deliberately sabotaged the peace talks.
Guerrero was quick to point out that the military still supported the peace initiatives at the local government level, led by local executives.
On Friday, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said peace talks led by local government units (LGUs) could be the “bright spot” in the peace process.
“We will continue to campaign, together with the LGUs, to pursue peace talks because even though the formal talks at the national level have ended, our local [government units]and our forces will be joining forces to give chance to those on the mountains to go back to their normal lives,” Padilla added.
‘Sison entitled to his opinion’
Malacañang shrugged off the accusation by Sison that his former student, President Duterte, is the “No. 1 terrorist in the Philippines.”
“Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.
“The President, we have to underscore, terminated the peace talks after their members had failed to show their sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations with their continuous acts of violence and atrocities,” he added.
Sison accused Duterte of being a terrorist after he ended the peace talks with the National Democratic Front.
“He is culpable for the abduction, torture, and mass murder of an increasing large number of poor people suspected as drug users and pushers, peasants and indigenous people in suspected guerrilla fronts and Moro people suspected of aiding the Dawlah Islamiyah from the time of the indiscriminate bombing of Marawi City to the present in several Bangsamoro areas,” Sison said in a statement.
The President on Thursday signed Proclamation 360 terminating the peace talks with the rebels, represented by the NDF. Duterte slammed the NPA for attacking government troops and civilians, and for shaking down industries and extorting money from them to fund their activities.
Roque said the President “walked the extra mile for peace as he has always wanted to leave a legacy of peace under his administration.”
But Sison, the NDF’s chief consultant in the peace talks, refuted Roque’s statement and said Duterte “maliciously sabotaged” the peace process, which was being brokered by Norway.
“In the course of his rants, Duterte unwittingly exposed his scarce, shallow and defective knowledge of the peace process,” Sison said.
“Among [Duterte’s] lucid statements … are those pertaining to his voluntary admission as a fascist in the service of the [United States], his overwhelming desire for killing and war, and his advice to the [NDF] to negotiate with his successor in due time,” he added.
In formally declaring the government’s withdrawal from the peace talks, the President also bared plans to declare the NPA a terrorist group and to crack down on its “legal fronts.”
On Friday, Duterte said he decided to cut talks with the communist rebels as the group sounded like they wanted a “coalition government” with his administration.
“As it was shaping up during our talks, I already noticed the trend of the thoughts of the other side and when I summed it all, reading from all previous working papers, it would sound like a coalition government,” Duterte said in a speech in Bulacan. “That is why I said in the previous days, I cannot give you what I don’t own and certainly a coalition with the Republic of the Philippines is pure nonsense.”
The President halted talks with the rebels in July following a series of attacks by the NPA, 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 martial law in Mindanao.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE