5th round of GRP-NDF peace talks called off; Duterte says no to talks for now

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 May) —  The 5th round of formal peace talks scheduled May 27 to June 2 in The Netherlands, has been called off, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the government peace panel not to sit across the negotiating table “until such time as there are clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace in the land” can be had, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said.

“The government panel is now left without any other recourse but to announce, with due respects to our counterparts and to our facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government that it will not proceed to participate in the scheduled 5th round of peace negotiations,” Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza announced in a press conference in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announces the decision of the Philippine peace panel not to participate in the 5th rounds of talks in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, OPAPP/Edwin Espejo

Dureza told MindaNews in a text message that the decision to stay away from the negotiating table for now was made during the Cabinet meeting that President Duterte convened Thursday at the Presidential Guest House in Davao City. Also present then were the top officials of the military and police, the Senate President and the House Speaker.

In February, Duterte also ordered the suspension of talks following the announcement by Jorge Madlos, spokesperson of the New People’s Army that they would lift their unilateral ceasefire by February 10. Hours after Madlos’ announcement, however, four soldiers were killed.  Informal talks were held in March and the 4th round of formal talks resumed on April 2 to 6.

Dureza and government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III left for the Netherlands on Friday morning to formally notify the National Democratic Front and the third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, of the President’s decision.  The other members of the panel had earlier arrived in the Netherlands.

Dureza cited seven “challenges” that he said must be addressed as these “now put at great risk our efforts to stay the course of peace.”

  • The noticeable upscale of incidents of offensive attacks by the NPA (New People’s Army) throughout the country;
  • 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;
  • The renewed surfacing of public apprehension questioning the sincerity of the CPP/NPA/NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines New Peoples’ Army / National Democratic Front) in the peace talks;
  • The public admissions of some panel members of the CPP/NPA NDF leaders that they have no control over their forces on the ground;
  • The sudden and perceptible erosion of public support to the peace talks with strong messages received from the public to altogether stop peace negotiations;
  • The clamor now to pursue instead localized peace talks;
  • And the latest and recent President’s public statements that he will no longer sign agreements with the CPP/NPA/NDF if all of these will continue and (are) not addressed.

But Dureza said the “most serious development” that now puts “in great jeopardy” the peace talks is “the blatant publicly announced decision” of the CPP in ordering  the NPA to accelerate and intensify attacks against the government in the face of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Dureza said the declaration of martial law by President Duterte on May 23 was “principally directed at extremists and terrorists who openly and defiantly challenged the government and put to harm the Filipino people” triggered by the still ongoing violence in the Islamic City of Marawi.

“As we always say and we will continue to say so: the road to peace is not a well paved road. It has humps and bumps along the way. But let’s all stay the course in this not- so-easy road to peace in our land,” Dureza concluded his statement.

Dureza, however, told MindaNews that there would be a meeting with the NDF at 5 p.m. (11 p.m. in Manila).

A day after  Duterte declared martial law, the CPP denounced him for imposing martial law in Mindanao. It called on the NPA to “plan and carry out more tactical offensives across Mindanao and the entire archipelago.”

The NPA, it added,  “must be ready to  accelerate the recruitment of new Red fighters as Duterte’s martial law convinces more and more people to take up arms against the rotten system.”

In response, Bello in a statement on May 25, said the CPP’s statement was, at the very least, “an insult to the candor and genuineness displayed by the President and the GRP panel in talking peace” and at worst, “betrays the absence of sincerity in the CPP in the negotiating table.”

Bello called on the CPP to recall its order to the NPA.  “Lest it be construed as abetting the criminal and terror acts of the Maute Group and a gang of Moro bandits, we put the CPP to task to correct its error and recall its senseless order.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)