Duterte suspends talks with NDF; will resume if there is a “compelling reason”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 05 February) — President Rodrigo Duterte onf Saturday night announced that he is “not ready to resume” peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) unless 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,” Duterte said.

Duterte had repeatedly said in the past that ending the nearly half a century armed conflicts with the communist and Moro rebels is a compelling reason to negotiate a political settlement because “dili ta pwede magsigeg gyera nga way katapusan” (we cannot be at war forever).

The President spoke with reporters on Saturday, outside the mausoleum of his parents, on his mother’s fifth death anniversary.

President Rodrigo Duterte announces he will suspend the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) after visiting the grave of his mother Soledad ‘Nanay Soling’ Duterte at the Davao Catholic Cemetery in Davao City on February 4, 2017. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/ Presidential Photo

He urged the political prisoners who were temporarily released in August to participate in the peace process, to go back to prison or he will have their passports canceled. He ordered intelligence units in the country to monitor their movements and added he will ask the international police to arrest them.

Duterte’s announcement came a day after he lifted the unilateral ceasefire declared in July and August. On February 1, Jorge Madlos, spokesperson of the New People’s Army (NPA) announced they were terminating the unilateral ceasefire effective 11:59 p.m. on February 10.

He berated the NPA for saying the unilateral ceasefire would end on February 10 but hours after Madlos’ 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.

“I told the soldiers to prepare for a long war,” he said.

Last year, Duterte also lifted the unilateral ceasefire he declared during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, five days after a Cafgu personnel was killed and four others injured in an ambush allegedly by the NPA.

On August 7, at the wake of four soldiers slain in two separate clashes with the NPA in Monkayo and Maragusan towns in Compostela Valley province, he asked the NPA to stop using land mines against government troops or the peace talks scheduled on August 20 to 27 in Oslo, Norway would not push through.

The government and NDF peace panels have had three rounds of formal peace negotiations and are supposed to meet on February 22 to 27 in The Netherlands to work on a bilateral ceasefire agreement and on April 2 to 6 for the fourth round of formal talks.

Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire on July 25, in his first State of the Nation Address 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.”

“All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living. We express our willingness and readiness to go to the negotiating table, and yet we load our guns, fix our sights, pull the trigger. It is both ironic and tragic— and it is endless,” Duterte said.

“While we extol the bravery and heroism of our soldiers, kayo, the rebels, do the same for your members and fighters. What I see instead are the widows and the orphans and I feel their pain and grieve, and no amount of cash assistance or the number of medals can compensate the loss of a human life. Sorrow cuts across every stratum of society. It cuts deeply and the pain lasts forever,” the President added.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza in a statement issued Sunday afternoon said the President “has clearly spoken on the directions we all in government should take.”

“Let’s take guidance from these recent declarations,” he said.

“If there is anyone who passionately dreams of — and works on — bringing about sustainable peace in the land, it is President Duterte. His judgment calls are directed towards this goal,” Dureza said.

“As I always say, the road to just and lasting peace is not easy to traverse. There are humps and bumps, and curves and detours along the way. What is important is that we all stay the course,” he said.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Bishop Felixberto Calang main convenor of Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao said they are “saddened” by the President’s decision but noted that it is “still possible for the negotiations to continue even if armed skirmishes will serve as a thorny backdrop to the talks,” like the situation then under the Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo administrations.

“We reiterate that what is important right now is for us to see that there is no cessation of the talks even if it seems difficult at the moment to realize a cessation of hostilities. We believe it is realistic at this juncture to note that until the roots of the armed conflict are resolved, the conditions for hostilities to flare are ever present. And this, we believe, is a matter that both negotiating panels can competently tackle as the talks progress.” (MindaNews)