DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 March) — Exactly a month after lifting the unilateral ceasefire he declared last year in relation to the peace process with the National Democratic Front (NDF), President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he was ready to resume peace talks and declare a ceasefire again but first “magstorya tag kinasingkasing” (we must have a heart-to-heart talk).
He said he also wants the New People’s Army (NPA) to release all the soldiers and civilians they are holding captive, and to stop demanding revolutionary taxes. He pointed to reports that the NPA burned heavy equipment of companies that did not meet their demands.
Duterte on February 3 lifted the unilateral ceasefire in response to the February 1 announcement of NPA spokesperson Jorge Madlos that they would lift their unilateral ceasefire effective 11:59 p.m. of February 10.
Madlos explained they were terminating their unilateral ceasefire because government had “not complied with its obligation to amnesty and release all political prisoners” and that it had “treacherously taken advantage of the unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire to encroach on the territory of the people’s democratic government,” claiming the AFP had occupied at least 500 villages nationwide “which are within the authority of the revolutionary government.”
Hours after Madlos’ announcement, however, three soldiers were killed by the NPA in Malaybalay City while a junior officer was killed in Manay, Davao Oriental.
On February 4, Duterte announced he was ending the peace talks and on February 5 told reporters in Cagayan de Oro City where he visited the wake for soldiers slain by the NPA that he was classifying his former professor Jose Ma. Sison, chief consultant of the NDF, as a “terrorist,” and the group he represents as a “terrorist organization.”
Back in Cagayan de Oro on Friday, March 3, this time to visit yet another wake and the wounded as a result of clashes with the NPA in Misamis Oriental, Duterte said in Cebuano that he was ready to talk to the NDF “but not the killers” and was ready to end the war because it brings so much pain to Filipinos.
“Andam ko basta sabot gani ug tinarong. Andam ko mag ceasefire usab. Pero tinarong nga istorya unya kanang tinuod” (I am ready but there must be sincerity in the talks. I am ready to resume the ceasefire again. But let us be sincere and true), Duterte said, adding that when there was still a ceasefire, “my soldiers were killed.” Duterte was referring to the February 1 killing of four soldiers by the NPA in Bukidnon and Compostela Valley, just hours after Madlos announced the ceasefire would be lifted February 10.
“Andam ko mag ceasefire basta tungo sa kapayapaan” (I am ready for a ceasefire towards peace,” he said.
The NDF had earlier announced that the NPA would release its captives but urged a suspension of military operations in the areas where the captives would be release.
In a statement on February 23, Joaquin Jacinto, NDF Mindanao spokesperson said they will release the three soldiers, one policeman and two paramilitary personnel who were arrested and detained by the NPA in four regions in Mindanao.
Jacinto said the release “shall be carried out as a gesture of goodwill for the resumption of the peace talks” and in response to the request of the families, loved ones and concerned sectors in society.
To be released are PFC Edwin Salan, captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29; Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pfc Samuel Garay, captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2; PO2 Jerome Natividad, captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9; and paramilitary members Rene Doller and Carl Mark Nucos, who were captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14.
But Jacinto said their actual release “can only be realized if and when the Armed Forces of the Phlippines, the Philippine National Police and the local government units give their full and undivided cooperation.”
Jacinto called on Duterte, who as Davao City mayor had accepted from the NPA their captive soldiers and police as well as paramilitary personnel and local officials “to direct the AFP to implement a suspension of military operations, and the PNP a suspension of police operations in areas which the NDF in the region concerned will specify and announce soon.”
The Regional Operations Command of the NPA in Far South Mindanao on February 14 released proof of life audio messages and photos of Calocop and Garay.
In a press statement on February 23, the NDF-North Central Mindanao Region said it was ready to begin talks with the Local Crisis Committee of Bukidnon on the release of Natividad.
In a statement on March 1, the NDF – Far South Mindanao Region said until the military stops its operations, Calocop and Garay will remain in captivity. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)