MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will only allow the government to resume its talks with communists if the rebels stop imposing revolutionary tax on citizens and businesses.
"I refuse now to resume the talks with them until they stop this extortion," he said on Thursday, July 6, during a media interview in Bukidnon.
He said the communist's term, "revolutionary tax", is just a euphemism for their practice of extortion.
A Bukidnon local reporter said properties of residents and businesses are burned by the New People's Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), if they do not pay revolutionary tax.
"That is just a mattter of semantics. Call it a revolutionary tax, actually, it's extortion. That's why we have this fight," said Duterte.
While he committed at the start of his presidency to end the decades-old fight between government and communists, he said he can only do so much if both sides cannot come to an agreement.
"I do not want to continue the fight. It has been there for 50 years. I suppose that everyone’s tired killing people for 50 years but if they want it another 50 years, the government can't do anything," he said.
His statement comes after chief government negotiator and labor chief Silvestre Bello III said the government and communists agreed to resume the 5th round of talks in August.
Informal talks to prepare for the formal meeting could be held in July.
Duterte had previously listed an end to revolutionary tax as among the features of a bilateral ceasefire agreement which he would require before greenlighting peace talks.
Despite this, the government and communist peace panels decided to push through with the 5th round of talks.
However, on the first day of talks, the government pulled out because the CPP issued a statement ordering its forces to intensify attacks against government after Duterte's martial law proclamation on May 23.
Duterte, in his speech to soldiers before the interview, called the NPA a distraction as government forces focus on quelling the Marawi conflict.
"Our focus here in Marawi is distracted. It's like there is a mosquito which went into your ear. That's NPA," he told soldiers.
The other day, he had slammed the CPP for its confusing stance on his martial law declaration – first ordering its forces to ramp up attacks against government and then saying it will help government fight terrorism. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.