Duterte scraps talks with communists

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte is "scrapping" peace talks with the communist rebels, he announced Saturday evening, February 4.

"I will request tomorrow the Philippine contingent to fold their tents and come home. I am not ready to resume the talks. As I have said, peace with the communists might not come in this generation," Duterte told reporters during a visit to his parents' graves in Davao City.

A reporter clarified if he was "scrapping" the talks. "Yes, entirely," Duterte said. 

Another reporter asked if he has given up on the peace process. "It is very clear to you, obviously," Duterte said. 

Duterte made the announcement a day after he lifted the government ceasefire to match the declaration of the New People's Army (NPA). The communist rebels had wanted the talks to continue, however. 

"I told the soldiers to prepare for a long war. I said it will not come during our generation. I know them already," said Duterte.

He repeatedly said he sees no reason the talks could resume during his term, although later softened his stance to say he might – if there is a "compelling reason."

"Unless there is a compelling one. I don't know what would be that reason. But always, it would be in the interest of the nation. If I do not feel... If there's a joke somewhere, I will not waste my time and compromise the integrity of government by releasing all for nothing," Duterte said.

Order arrest of released consultants

Duterte also wants to put back in prison the prisoners he released last year to serve as consultants to the National Democratic Front (NDF). (READ: WHO'S WHO: Political prisoners released for Oslo talks)

"For those who were released by the government, they should – on their own volition – return here and go back to prison. Or else I'll be forced to... I'm alerting all the intelligence community to keep track of where they are now. 'Yung na-release (Those who were released) temporarily to talk with us in Oslo, they should come back and submit themselves to the jurisdiction of this government because they are still prisoners. Walang (No) pardon. Walang (No) amnesty. Walang lahat (No everything)," Duterte said. 

They make up about 20 consultants, including tagged former Communist Party of the Philippines leader Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma

Duterte dismissed the need to talk to his former professor, CPP founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison. "I am not interested in arguing with them. If they issued statements, I would not answer," he said. 

Peace with communist rebels was one of Duterte's campaign promises. But he said their demands are impossible, citing the immediate release of about 400 political prisoners. 

He denied that he made a promise to release all political prisoners. "I would not be stupid in entering in that kind of arrangement. You must remember I am a prosecutor. That is practically granting amnesty," said Duterte. 

Rebels' fault

He blamed the collapse of the talks entirely on the rebels.

"I tried everything. I walked the extra mile, released prisoners, released their leaders so they could go to Oslo to talk. Now no, they want 400-plus prisoners who fought government under a rebellion. That is only given, common sense would tell you, after successful talks, hindi ka magrelease ng mga nasa preso (you won't release those in prison) at the beginning. What is there to talk about, kung release ko lahat sila (if I release them all). Why bother to talk?" Duterte said.

The President also echoed military protests against allegedly excessive attacks by the NPA, citing a police report that 76 bullets were used to kill 3 soldiers in Bukidnon.

The military and the NPA traded blame for the collapse of the ceasefire. The NPA claimed it launched 20 offensive operations against the military to fight supposed deployment against the rebels. The military accused the NPA of violating its own ceasefire.

Six soldiers and an NPA rebel have been reported killed since the violence resumed on January 23. The NPA said it also took 5 soldiers as "prisoners of war." – Rappler.com