CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 03 April) — As government casualties mount, President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday renewed his conditions for the peace talks with the National Democratic Front.
Duterte said a document should be signed by the NDF and government with the third party facilitator, the government of Norway, as witness, detailing “the parameters of the peace talks.”
“Kailangan may ceasefire at signed in an official document with the participation with the Norway government who’s providing the good offices of the peace talks to be held there,” Duterte told reporters outside the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital.
Duterte arrived here Sunday afternoon to award Purple Hearts medals to ten Army soldiers who were wounded in the latest clashes between the New Peoples Army rebels in the provinces of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.
In a press conference here, Duterte said he relayed the four conditions to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, concurrent chair of the government peace panel in the peace negotiations with the NDF.
Duterte said he also set three other conditions for the NDF to comply with, namely: the rebels should no longer engage in extortion or revolutionary taxes and “they cannot claim any piece of territory or a real estate here in the Republic of the Philippines.”
He also demanded that the rebels release all soldiers, policemen and government employees held captive by the NPA.
“Here are my conditions. Akin yan, and that could be by barest, pinaka-bare conditions or conditionalities,” Duterte said.
“Pag wala yan, walang peace talks,” he said.
Casualties have mounted since hostilities between the government and the NPA when the NDF announced the lifting of its unilateral ceasefire effective 11:59 p.m. on February 10. Hours after NPA spokesperson Jorge Madlos issued the announcement, however, a junior officer was killed in Davao Oriental while three soldiers were killed in Bukidnon in an ambush by the NPA.
On February 3, Duterte announced in M’lang, North Cotabato that he would order the lifting that night of the government’s unilateral ceasefire. The next day he called off the talks and on February 5 also here in Cagayan de Oro declared Jose Ma. Sison, chief political consultant of the NDF and his professor in Political Thought in Lyceum University, as a terrorist and his group as a terrorist organization. He also ordered the re-arrest of NDF leaders who were temporarily released to participate in the peace talks in Oslo.
Communist rebels using guerilla tactics have conducted ambuscades and set up checkpoints along key highways in Mindanao where its main forces are concentrated.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Ano told reporters here a total of 20 soldiers have been killed since the resumption of hostilities.
But Ano said Army soldiers were able to kill 200 rebels during the same period, a claim disputed by the NPA.
“Based on that numbers, I think we are winning the war,” Ano said.
Col Edgar Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Public Affairs Office told MindaNews in a telephone interview Monday that the 200 Ano was referring to was “either killed, apprehended or neutralized.”
Back-channel talks were held on March 10 and 11 in Utrecht, at the end of which Dureza announced the peace process was back on track.
“I am pleased to announce that the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army / National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/ NDF) which broke down weeks ago, are now back on track again,” Dureza said in a five-paragraph statement he posted on his Facebook wall.
He said the unilateral ceasefire declared by both parties last year but terminated in early February “is deemed restored and reinstated but will be made effective only as soon as the respective forces of both sides are duly informed but definitely before the next round of talks in April, 2017.”
The GRP and NDF peace panels at the end of the third round of formal talks on January 25 had scheduled the fourth round of formal peace negotiations in Oslo, Norway on April 2 to 6.
The venue of the talks has been moved to The Netherlands. Both parties agreed on Sunday that the fourth round of formal peace talks will open at 10 a.m. April 3 (4 p.m. in the Philippines) at the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands. (Froilan O. Gallardo / MindaNews)