DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 July) — “If .. you want to talk to us, then my God, please stop killing us,” President Rodrigo Duterte asked the National Democratic Front (NDF) as he declared that if the NDF announces it will stop waging war against his administration, he “will announce a total ceasefire in the meantime that we are busy dealing with the problem in Marawi.”
Duterte made these pronouncements before residents of Davao del Sur during the 50th anniversary celebration of the province at the Davao Del Sur Coliseum in Digos City late Saturday afternoon.
He said he cannot understand what the NDF wants, referring to the pronouncements last month by the NDF ordering its military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA) to refrain from carrying out offensives against government forces as it expressed willingness to discuss ceasefire with the government and cooperation against the Maute Group in Marawi.
The government through peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III, reciprocated with an announcement the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not also launch offensives against the NPA.
The NPA, however mounted attacks in the Visayas.
Duterte reminded the NDF that if the terrorists win, “there will never be a space for you.”
“In the meantime,” the President asked, “ano ba talaga?” (what do you really want?)
“Mag-usap ba tayo o hindi?” (Are we going to talk or not?), Duterte asked, adding that if they would, indeed talk in the future, “then stop waging war kasi baka itong mga sundalo ayaw na rin makipagusap” (because our soldiers may not want peace talks anymore).
He accused the NDF of doublespeak. “Dalawa kasi ang salita ninyo,” he said, recalling that on February 1, the NPA spokesperson in Mindanao, Jorge Madlos, announced it was lifting its unilateral ceasefire by February 10 but hours after the announcement, three unarmed soldiers were killed in Malaybalay City while a junior officer was killed in Manay, Davao Oriental by suspected members of the NPA.
“Better decide,” Duterte said, reiterating that government is ready to fight the rebels for another 50 years.
“I’m willing to accept the offer that you’ll stop fighting, good. I accept that and we can talk again,” Duterte said.
Before speaking in Davao del Sur, Duterte also attended the 50th anniversary celebration in Davao del Norte where he recalled that as Davao City mayor, he and the NDF “used to talk. We were friends.”
He said the NDF should realize that at no other time in history has there been a President who talked to and listened to them.
The fifth round of formal peace talks was scheduled for May 28 to June 2 in The Netherlands but the government peace panel withdrew for “lack of compelling reason” to continue the negotiations.
At that time, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP) Jesus Dureza said the challenges that prompted the GRP’s withdrawal from the peace talks included noticeable upscale of incidents of offensive attacks by the NPAs throughout the country and the seeming perception of the bigger public that these NPA operations are in open and public defiance of President Duterte who has consistently accommodated them in unprecedented ways.
‘Talking while fighting’
In a statement released by the NDF on July 1, the communists maintained its willingness to continue the peace negotiations under the “talking while fighting” modality.
“The Duterte regime will be painting itself to a corner if it chooses to completely abandon the NDFP-GRP peace negotiations,” it said, adding the government must accede to the just demands of the NDFP and the Filipino people for substantive socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms and let these run ahead of any bilateral ceasefire agreement.
The NDFP also demanded Duterte to drop the “US counter-insurgency doctrine of pacification and cooptation of forcing the surrender of the revolutionary forces through premature ceasefire and address the key issues of social justice that are the root of the raging armed conflict.“
Duterte said it is unacceptable for him that the NPA rebels would could continue to attack the government forces when they are just carrying out their duty to “patrol and control every inch of the territory.”
“I am the President and I will never allow that proposition. Though we are not there all the time, we cannot guard every inch of this Republic but I must insist that I, I own the Republic in behalf of the Filipino people every inch of the way,” he said. (Antonio L Colina IV / MindaNews)