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Duterte cancels peace talks with communists

/ 07:00 AM November 23, 2017

THIRD ROUND OF TALKS Fidel Agcaoili (left), chief negotiator of the communist-led National
Democratic Front of the Philippines, and his government counterpart, Labor Secretary Silvestre
Bello III, shake hands after the signing of supplemental guidelines of the Joint Monitoring
Committee that will facilitate the processing of human rights complaints during the third round
of peace talks in January. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

The government has canceled all planned meetings with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of peace talks with the communist insurgents, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said on Wednesday.

Dureza said the national government was terminating the talks after the failure of the CPP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), in reciprocating peace overtures from the President. But he said he was still hopeful that this would turn out to be a temporary setback.

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“We are hereby announcing today the cancellation of all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) in line with President Duterte’s directive that there will be no more peace talks with them,” he said in a statement.

The NDFP is the political arm of the CPP.

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“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,” Dureza said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Duterte said Malacañang was preparing the official proclamation terminating the peace talks and categorizing the NPA as a terrorist organization.

“I no longer want to talk, especially after their last ambush of a police officer where a 4-month-old girl who was in the arms of the mother [was killed],” he said.

The baby was killed when NPA members ambushed a police vehicle in Barangay Tikalaan, Talakag, Bukidnon, on Nov. 11. The baby and her mother were in a Toyota Fortuner that was behind the police vehicle.

The CPP has been waging an insurgency since 1968 to overthrow a system that has created one of Asia’s biggest rich-poor divides.

On and off

Peace talks to end the conflict, which the military says has claimed 30,000 lives, have been conducted on-and-off for three decades.

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They were revived last year after Mr. Duterte,  a self-declared socialist, was elected President, with Norway and the Netherlands hosting the negotiations.

Dureza said the termination of peace talks with the communist rebels was an unfortunate development.

“Never before have we all reached this far in our negotiations with them,” he said.

He said Mr. Duterte had taken unprecedented steps and had walked the extra mile to bring peace. “However, the CPP and its armed elements  have not shown reciprocity,” he said.

Dureza said there would be “no peace negotiations anymore” with the insurgents “until such time as the desired enabling environment conducive to a change in the government’s position becomes evident.”

He said the government would continue to “closely watch the developments” to determine if the talks could resume later on.

Gratitude to Norway

“We have expressed our deep gratitude to the Royal Norwegian Government for its strong support as we also expressed to their officials our regrets for this turn of events,” Dureza said.

Norway has been a facilitator in the peace process between the government and the NDFP since 2001.

“Despite this setback, [hopefully only temporary], we remain steadfast and undeterred in our unrelenting journey for sustainable and just peace,” Dureza said.

“I now call on everyone: Let’s all stay the course together,” he added.

The peace talks bogged down in May when the government peace panel withdrew from the fifth round of negotiations in the Dutch city of Noordwijk after the CPP ordered the NPA to step up attacks against security forces.

The CPP issued the order after Mr. Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao after Islamic State-inspired terrorists laid siege to Marawi City in late May.

Formal talks between the government and the CPP were supposed to resume in September but the President was angered by  the NPA ambush on convoy of the Presidential Security Group in Arakan, North Cotabato, in July.

Mr. Duterte insisted that there should be a ceasefire before the talks could proceed.

Gloomy Christmas

A Catholic priest predicted that the coming Yuletide season would be gloomy and violent because of the scuttled talks.

Fr. Pete Montallana recalled that the people in remote areas, particularly the indigenous people in the Sierra Madre, felt safe when the government and rebels stopped hostilities in Christmases past.

“Let the people celebrate Christmas without the feeling of fear around them,” Montallana said as he called on Mr. Duterte and the communist leaders to resume the talks and continue the traditional Yuletide ceasefire.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for his part, advised the communist rebels to just surrender, saying the defense establishment would be relentless against the NPA. —With reports from Jeannette T. Andrade, Delfin T. Mallari Jr., and AFP

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TAGS: communist rebels, CPP, Jesus Dureza, NDFP, NPA, Philippine peace talks, Rodrigo Duterte
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