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Duterte: No talks with Reds if they continue attacks

NPA ATTACK People look at the bullet-riddled Presidential Security Group vehicle attacked by communist rebels in Arakan, North Cotabato, on Wednesday. —AFP

President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday called off peace talks with the communist rebels after four presidential guards were wounded in an encounter in North Cotabato province and directed the government panel not to resume negotiations unless the New People’s Army (NPA) stopped its attacks on security forces.

In a statement, Malacañang said Mr. Duterte met with the government peace panel on Tuesday to discuss the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the communist rebels.

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During the meeting, the President directed the 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 statement said.

“This includes suspending operations against the military and the police and stopping all their extortion activities on the ground, among others,” it added.

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The statement said the peace panel, led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, was set to conduct “back-channel talks” with the NDFP to discuss the resumption of formal negotiations.

But after the incident in which four members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were wounded in Arakan, North Cotabato,  early Wednesday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced that he was also calling off the planned back-channel talks in Europe this week.

NPA checkpoint

Brig. Gen. Louie Dagoy, PSG commander, said his men were on board two vehicles going to Cagayan de Oro from Davao City when they encountered the NPA guerrillas in Arakan, North Cotabato.

“The NPA put up a checkpoint but our soldiers noticed it. We had four injured but they’re not in critical condition,” Dagoy said.

He said the President had no scheduled event in the area and the PSG was just reinforcing its personnel in Cagayan de Oro.

“There were about 50 armed men in military uniforms. There was a sign that said it was a checkpoint by Task Force Davao,” said Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, the PSG spokesperson.

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Senior Insp. Argie Celeste, the chief of police of Arakan, said what gave the rebels away were the wet boots they were wearing.

“The (PSG) driver immediately sped off and the exchange of gunfire followed,” Celeste said.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, the Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, said a pursuit operation was launched by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion and troops from Task Force Davao.

Balagtey said the pursuing troops clashed with the fleeing rebels, leaving a militiaman dead.

Senior Supt. Emmanuel Peralta, the North Cotabato police director, said he got the names of five wounded soldiers in the incident but was unsure who were PSG members. They were Staff Sergeants Matumhay, Lisondor and Gerry Tursal and Corporals Ayam Alia and Rodel Ledesma.

Peralta identified the slain militiaman as Ben Padia. The fleeing rebels also grabbed a hostage, identified as Rogelio Magno.

Police agent held

The NPA confirmed its guerrillas were involved in the Arakan incident. It also said it was holding a hostage it described as a police agent.

The fifth round of peace talks with the rebels was suspended on May 27 following orders by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to the NPA to intensify attacks against security forces after Mr. Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao in the wake of a terrorist attack on  Marawi City.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella strongly condemned Wednesday’s attack.

Abella said that if the CPP were “truly in pursuit of peaceful coexistence, they must stand against a common enemy, regardless of martial law extension.”

“The Duterte administration has shown in numerous occasions its strong commitment to bring peace,” he said.

“It is time for the CPP/NPA/NDFP to reciprocate the government’s gestures of goodwill by ending their extortion and criminal activities and redirecting their energy to help eradicate terrorism and violent extremism in Mindanao,” he added. With reports from Nikko Dizon, Karlos Manlupig, Allan Nawal, Frinston Lim, Edwin Fernandez, Williamor Magbanua, and Jeoffrey Maitem

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TAGS: communist rebels, CPP, NDFP, NPA, NPA attacks, Philippine peace talks, Rodrigo Duterte, Silvestre Bello III
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