MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte affirmed conditions set by his generals on the resumption of talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the group representing communist rebels responsible for nearly 5 decades of insurgency.
Duterte said the communist armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) should do the following:
- agree to a bilateral ceasefire
- stop demanding that troops leave areas they claim to control
- stop collecting revolutionary taxes
- release cops and soldiers they’ve taken as prisoners of war
The President was speaking before the Filipino community in Myanmar on Sunday, March 19.
It’s the first time that the conditions were publicly stated by Duterte himself, although these were the same ones that Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella issued a month ago and government negotiators subsequently downplayed.
Duterte scrapped the peace talks in February after the NPA withdrew from a 5-month-long ceasefire. The President said he wouldn’t resume the negotiations unless there are compelling reasons for him to change his mind.
But only the 1st condition – a bilateral ceasefire agreement – was stated in the joint statement issued by the government and NDF negotiators after the informal talks in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
The 3 others were not included in the joint statement.
A combative Duterte on Sunday was firm in demanding a stop to the collection of revolutionary taxes, an activity that the rebels had said is a legitimate function of a revolutionary government.
“Stop kayong maghingi (Stop asking [for money]. Otherwise, giyera tayo (we go to war). We have been at it for 50 years. Do you want another 50 years? Are you good for another 15 years?” Duterte said.
Waiting for the reinstatement of ceasefires
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA are also expected to reinstate separate unilateral ceasefire declarations before the 4th round of talks set for the 1st week of April, based on the joint statement.
Fighting on the ground, however, still persists. The AFP said it will await instructions from Malacañang, but Duterte, on Sunday, did not seem ready to issue the orders.
“Ngayon sabi nila, mag-ceasefire sila. Sabi ko, well, ako… huwag na muna. Tingnan ko (Now they are saying, they will order a ceasefire. I said, I won’t, not yet. ). Bigyan mo ako (Give me a) ceasefire that is reduced in writing so that we can establish the parameters,” the President said.
The conditions first came as suggestions from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr and AFP chief General Eduardo Año when asked about the “compelling reasons” that could prompt government to resume the talks.
Abella’s statement followed these suggestions, a move that apparently surprised government negotiators who clarified back then that no conditions would be set for the resumption of talks. – Carmela Fonbuena / Rappler.com