Duterte generals open to talks with Reds
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Top security officials of President Rodrigo Duterte expressed openness to the possibility of resuming talks with communist rebels.
But National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año enumerated demands to the communist armed group New People's Army (NPA) that underscore the challenges if the government takes them as preconditions to resuming talks.
Esperon and Año are former and current chiefs of the military that has been waging war against the rebels for nearly 5 decades.
Esperon, a retired general and former chief presidential peace adviser, said combatants like him are the ones who most want the peace process to succeed. But he dismissed the rebels' demands as impossible.
"I dont discuss what I recommend to the President but I told you I'm from OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process). But kung ganoon din naman ang gagawin ng (But if these are the actions we're going to see from the) New People's Army...," he told reporters on the sidelines of the Philippine Military Academy alumni homecoming on Saturday, February 18.
Año was more categorical in declaring openness to talks even as he dismissed the communist armed group as a band of criminals who have lost their touted idealogy.
"Ang stand namin sa peace talks, open kami kung magkaroon ng peace negotiations. But sabi ng President there must be a compelling reason to go back.... Makikita natin sa ngayon wala nang ideology," he said in a press conference Saturday night, also in Baguio City.
(Our stand on the peace talks is that we're open to peace negotiations. But the President said there must be a compelling reason to go back... we now see they've lost their ideology.)
The statements came a day before the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) issued a statement to urge Duterte to send the negotiators of both camps to The Netherlands on Wednesday, February 22, to proceed with an earlier scheduled side meeting to discuss a joint ceasefire deal. (READ: CPP to Duterte: Let's discuss joint ceasefire deal)
The military and the NPA issued separate unilateral ceasefires back in August 2016. The communities enjoyed peace for for 5 months, the longest ceasefire in the history of the conflict, but the NPA terminated its unilateral ceasefire on February 1 because of the untenable situation on ground. Both camps accused each other of ceasefire abuses.
In the statement on Sunday, the CPP vowed it is committed to working with the government negotiators to reinstate the ceasefire through a bilateral ceasefire agreeement that will be "mutually acceptable and enforceable."
A bilateral ceasefire agreement will put in place common rules for the military and the NPA, clearly defining what activities they may or may not do.
Esperon and Año listed at least 4 contentious issues that will have to be discussed.
Esperon slammed two rebel demands: the release of 400 political prisoners early in the peace process and its insistence for the military to stay away from areas claimed by the NPA.
"What territory are you talking about? The whole Philippine territory is government territory," he said.
The CPP in their statement on Sunday said "the revolutionary forces are bound by principle to assert the withdrawal of the AFP's operating troops from areas under the sway of the revolutionary government."
Año said two other alleged NPA actitivies must stop: "extorting money" and "using IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that endanger" innocent civilians.
The military has tagged as "extortion" and thus criminal the collection of revolutionary taxes by the NPA. The rebels maintain it is a legitimate function by the revolutionary government. (READ: Twitter convo with NPA: Duterte, ceasefire, and revolutionary taxes)
The military also slammed the use of landmines by the NPA.
Unless Duterte changes his mind about the talks, Año said the military will intensify its campaign against the NPA.
"Kailangan dito (We need) both miltary pressure on our side and social pressure from the non-military side so that they wil be forced again not only to go back to the negotiating table but probably choose the path of peace," he said.
The CPP has accused Esperon and Año of sabotaging the talks, raising questions about their sincerity because of allegations of human rights violations against them during the Arroyo administration that saw a spate of killings of political activists.
Duterte was also reportedly angered by the NPA's attacks against the military even before the termination of its ceasefire took effect. The rebels claimed they were forced to fight, in "active defense mode," because soldiers had been harassing them right inside territories they claim to control. – Rappler.com