By Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday called off peace talks with communist rebels ahead of their likely inclusion on a terrorist watch list, the government’s chief peace adviser said.
The Duterte administration’s decision to end talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), came after its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), launched deadly attacks last week in the southern region of Mindanao. These killed two people, including a baby girl, and wounded at least three officers and six civilians, according to military officials.
“We are hereby announcing today the cancellation of all planned meetings with them in line with the President’s directive that there will be no more peace talks,” Jesus Dureza, the government’s peace adviser, said.
“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.”
The negotiations aimed at settling a 48-year communist insurgency bogged down in February when both sides accused each other of violating a truce agreement.
“President Duterte has taken unprecedented steps and has walked the so-called extra mile to bring peace. However, the communist party and its armed elements have not shown reciprocity,” Dureza said.
“There will be no peace negotiations anymore with the CPP/NPA/NDF until such a time as the desired enabling environment conducive to a change in the government’s position becomes evident. We will closely watch the developments,” he added.
The CPP has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969, in one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies. Its New People’s Army (NPA) is known for hitting government targets in the countryside. Military estimates placed the NPA strength at more than 5,000 guerrillas scattered in more than 60 fronts throughout the country.
“Despite this setback, we remain steadfast and undeterred in our unrelenting journey for sustainable and just peace,” he said.
Vigorously pursue operations
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military would keep pursuing operations against their armed components vigorously, and hit the communist rebels because of their “penchant for double talk” and mounting ongoing attacks.
“We strongly suggest to the NPA to lay down their arms, surrender, return to society, and be part of the real change espoused by the national leadership,” Lorenzana said.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte had said he planned to classify the NPA as a terrorist organization. He said the rebels had lost their ideology and morphed into a plain bandit group over time.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed it was about time that the rebel group was labeled a terror organization.
“They burn, destroy, kill innocent civilians to terrorize; they terrorize to sow fear and harass helpless civilians; they harass to extort under the guise of revolutionary taxation,” Lacson said.
Apart from killing two people and wounding nine others during last week’s spate of attacks in Mindanao, NPA rebels also captured two policemen who were manning a highway outpost. The guerrillas also torched two trucks along the same road connecting the provinces of Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte, the military said.
Duterte: Stop paying ‘revolutionary taxes’
In 2004, the peace talks between the government and the leftists also stalled after the United States listed the NPA and its parent body as foreign terrorist organizations.
On Tuesday, Duterte also warned mining firms operating in the countryside who give illegal “revolutionary taxes” to the guerrillas to stop the practice or be shut down.
He said it was “almost a public knowledge that mining companies are contributing to the taxation of the NPAs thereby giving them also strength, money to buy arms, and bullets and all in their desire to topple down the Republic of the Philippines.”
“For those who cannot resist (to fork over money), then you better close up,” Duterte said, adding that it was a “dangerous tendency of capitulating” to the pressure of the rebels.
He said negotiating with the rebels was like “an endurance contest,” and that terminating the talks also meant “categorizing them as terrorist group,” Duterte said.
“It’s not an entity anymore worth talking to,” Duterte said.
Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.