(UPDATE 4 – 7:33 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte practically slammed the door on further peace talks with communist rebels and ordered the Armed Forces to train its sights on the New People’s Army once it defeats extremist gunmen in Marawi City.
Duterte bared his decision in a speech to government forces during his visit to Marawi on Thursday, his first to the war-torn Lanao del Sur capital since the start of the fighting that prompted him to place Mindanao under martial law on May 23.
Earlier, he had ordered government negotiators to drop backchannel talks scheduled this weekend with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the communists, after five personnel of the Presidential Security Group were wounded and a militiaman killed in an incident involving the NPA in Arakan, Cotabato Wednesday.
From an earlier offer to help combat extremists, which security and defense officials turned down, the communists have since taken a more belligerent attitude and ordered more attacks on government targets citing intensified military operations against the NPA and even hinterland civilian communities since Duterte declared martial law.
“Ayaw ko nang makipag-usap sa kanila. Marami na akong sundalo na pinatay nila. Marami na akong pulis na pinatay nila (I don’t want to talk to them anymore. They have killed many of my soldiers. They have killed many of my police) …” Duterte declared in Marawi.
“Huwag kayo masyadong magkumpiyansa kasi there is a strong resurgence. Nabubuhay na naman ang NPA (Do not be complacent because there is a strong resurgence. The NPA is resurrecting again),” he told the troops.
“Pagkatapos nito … pagkatapos niyong makuha ‘yung mga ulol d’yan (sa Marawi), mag-reorient tayo, NPA naman kasi marami silang utang sa atin (After this … after you get the fools there, we will reorient and it will be the NPA’s turn because they owe us a lot),” he added.
Pointing the recent killing by rebel assassins of two Marines returning from marketing in Palawan, Duterte said: “Mabuti na lang nasa Republika tayo kung hindi (It’s good we are in a Republic) — we’re bound to obey the rules of — kung hindi, putulin ko na sila ng ulo (otherwise I would cut off their heads).”
Reacting to Duterte’s statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines, through its information bureau, noted that, “in the first place, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) did not stop attacking the NPA.”
“Napakarami nang masang pinatay dahil lang pinaparatangang sumusuporta sa (So many of the masses have been killed because they were accused of supporting the NPA),” it added.
The CPP acknowledged that the NPA was picking up the pace of attacks across the country but said this was “dahil nagpapatuloy ang kaapihan at pagsasamantala sa kanila sa ilalim ng rehimeng Duterte (because the oppression and exploitation of the people has continued under the Duterte regime).”
At the same time, the CPP doubted Duterte would see the end of the violence that began in Marawi.
“Masuwerte siya kung matapos niya ang giyera niya sa Marawi. Ngayon pa lang napakaraming Moro ang nag–aarmas sa paghahangad na labanan ang ginawang pangwawasak sa kanila (He will be lucky if he can finish his war in Marawi. As of now many more Moros are taking up arms to resist the destruction inflicted on them),” the CPP said.
It also reminded Duerte that “kahit sa panahon ng idolo niyang si (Ferdinand) Marcos hindi napigilan ang pagsulong ng armadong rebolusyon ng mamamayang Pilipino at Moro (even during the time of his idol Marcos the progress of the armed revolution of the Filipino people and the Moro could not be stopped).”
But Duterte’s peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, cautioned against interpreting the chief executive’s words to mean the peace talks were being scuttled.
“Take his exact statement as is please,” Dureza said in a statement. “Let’s not interpret.”
“I have not heard him say categorically ‘talks over or terminated,’ did he? What is clear now is that the scheduled backchannel meeting to work on (the) possible resumption of (the) suspended fifth round was cancelled,” Dureza said.
The government peace panel decided not to sit at the negotiating table for the fifth round of formal talks, scheduled for May 27-June 2 in The Netherlands after the Communist Party of the Philippines ordered the NPA to intensify attacks in reaction to the declaration of martial law.
“If there will (be) a new officially announced position, then let’s all wait for a categorical statement coming from the President no less,” he added.
This will not be the first time a government official has had to explain what Duterte may or may not have meant, although earlier, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella even invited journalists to apply “creative imagination” to get the real meaning of the President’s words.
For his part, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said there is a “more urgent need and reason now” to continue the talks with the National Democratic Front.
“Pres. Duterte’s Marawi statement of targeting next the NPA bodes even more serious problems to the whole nation and our people, as it may mean the expanded declaration of martial law in the whole country,” Zarate, vice chairperson of the House committee on peace, unity and reconciliation, said.
“It will mean not only all out-war and continuing attacks on communities, but, more importantly, it will place in jeopardy and put to waste the bold gains so far achieved by the parties in the substantive agenda of solving the root causes of the armed conflict,” he added.
Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the government should get its act together in dealing with the NDF.
“Are the aborted back channel talks – and postponed regular round – only a temporary hitch while it is nursing its bruised unrealistic expectations, or frustrated one-sided impositions? Or, is it practically putting finis to the negotiations by precipitate bullying and vengeful legal tactics by threatening those involved in the talks? Or is it bluffing while awaiting how much damage it can either wreak or control? Or is the latest hot off the mill plaint to reportedly scrap the peace talks altogether another typical outburst?” Olalia said.
“It is immensely amazing how selective, skewed and prejudiced one’s processing of facts, information and events can be to justify populist impulsive decisions,” he added.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said calling off the talks would be effectively reneging on the commitment the President made in his first State of the Nation Address.
“It would be a disservice to the masses if the government will totally cancel the peace negotiations because of its insistence in forging a bilateral cease fire before tackling the meat of negotiation which is the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reform or CASER,” he said.
Click and watch the video report below:
Additional footage showing an emotional President Duterte speaking before the troops in Marawi: