DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /20 Feb)– After calling off the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and ordering the arrest of its consultants President Rodrigo Duterte “had clearly committed to reconsider his decisions if there are compelling reasons to do so,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said, as he urged the public to be patient. “Let us all wait for that determination.”
“We are all committed to achieving just and lasting peace in the land,” Dureza said in a statement released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
Government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III told MindaNews they will meet with President Duterte Monday night to discuss the next steps.
Duterte is likely to order a return to the negotiating table as ending the conflict with the CPP-NPA-NDF and the Moro revolutionary fronts has been among his top campaign promises.
When that order will be issued might be known after Monday night’s meeting.
Duterte lifted the unilateral ceasefire on February 3, called off the talks on February 4 and on February 5 tagged the CPP-NPA-NDF a “terrorist group” and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, his Professor in Political Thought, a “terrorist.” He also ordered the arrest of NDF consultants he had released in August to participate in the peace negotiations and said he would only return to the negotiating table if there is a “compelling reason” to do so.
“I do not know what would be that reason. But always it would be in the interest of the nation,” he said.
After venting his anger for three days in succession, Duterte kept quiet from February 6, referring to it again on February 12 in Surigao City, hinting a resumption of the talks “in due time.”
In Cebuano, he said, the parties are not talking now but “in due time this will be resolved because it is really not about ideology but it is about the Filipino people. Ug unsay maayo sa atong katawhan” (Whatever is best for the people).
Also on Monday morning, Davao City Mayor Sara Dutere-Carpio, the President’s daughter, issued a statement offering her willingness to talk to the New People’s Army (NPA) following the series of events in the third district of the city, that left several persons dead.
On February 16 alone, five combatants — two soldiers and three NPA guerrillas — were killed and 15 soldiers were injured in a landmine blast.
“In light of the recent events in the third district of Davao City that resulted in the deaths of our fellow Filipinos, I am offering my hand in peace to the New People’s Army. I am willing to listen, if the NPA is willing to talk,” Mayor Duterte said.
“My only condition, at this point is, I want to talk to them as a group. I will not accept individuals who want to voluntarily surrender. I have a plan but I want to listen first to what you have to say,” the mayor added.
She said her offer to talk “is limited by my authority over the area of my responsibility” and suggested to the NPA to “think about this offer seriously since this will benefit you, our fellow Dabawenyos, and our beloved city.”
She warned that “in the event that you will decline my offer, I can only pray that there will be no more deaths and leave everything to AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and to God.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate told MindaNews Mayor Duterte’s offer is a “welcome gesture.”
“To engage the NPA on issues that come within the competence of the local government unit, I think that is a welcome gesture.” It’s better than the LGU itself facilitates the ‘all out war’ that the AFP is drumbeating,” he said.
But Zarate cautioned that the local engagement with the NPA “must compliment, not supplant, the peace talks of the GRP-NDF peace panels.”
The NDF represents the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the peace negotiations.
Heed the clamor
On Sunday, the CPP issued a statement calling on President Duterte to heed the clamor of various groups to reconsider his decision terminating the peace negotiations with the NDF as it expressed willingness to proceed with the February 22 to 27 negotiations in The Netherlands, to work on a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
As a “positive gesture,” the CPP called on NPA units to “expedite the release” of four soldiers and two paramilitary elements it captured in Alegria in Surigao del Norte, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, Talakag in Bukidnon and Lupon in Davao Oriental “before or during” the Netherlands talks if the AFP withdraws from the area where the captives will be freed.
The government and NDF have had three rounds of formal peace talks since August, its last held on January 19 to 25 in Rome.
Before the first round of formal talks, however, a crisis occurred that nearly led tot the cancellation of the schedule but was resolved “in due time.”
Duterte lifted the unilateral ceasefire he declared during his first SONA on July 25, after five days, following the killing of a Cafgu paramilitary member and the wounding of four others in Davao del Norte on July 27.
He gave the NDF a 24-hour ultimatum to reciprocate his declaration and lifted it when the 24-hour deadline lapsed, warned he would call off the talks if the rebels used landmine again following the death of five soldiers in an ambush by the NPA in Compostela Valley and Bukidnon.
Despite these, however, Duterte ordered the government peace panel to proceed to Oslo in Norway for the first round of formal talks and pushed for the release of the NDF consultants to allow them to participate in the Oslo talks.
In his first SONA, Duterte had appealed to the CPP/NPA/NDF: “let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere, and it is getting bloodier by the day.”
He declared a unilateral ceasefire “effective immediately” to “immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide an enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks.”
“We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal. That is my dream,” Duterte said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)