MANILA– President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would not proceed until communist guerrillas end collecting so-called “revolutionary taxes.”
“I refuse now to resume talks [with] them until they stop itong extortion kasi sasabihin ng tao nagbabayad sila ng buwis wala namang proteksyon,” Duterte told reporters in a chance interview in Bukidnon, where he visited troops from the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade.
“If they want to resume the talks, one of the things I demand is they stop extortion activities,” he said.
The fifth round of formal talks in late May were suspended after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered the New People’s Army (NPA) to intensify its attacks and recruitment of fighters due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23.
Duterte placed Mindanao under martial rule after clashes erupted between government troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City. Amid ongoing offensives in the south, several attacks attributed to the NPA were reported in June.
Government had said this fueled doubts on the sincerity of the Left to pursue peace negotiations.
Duterte made his latest comments on the NDFP just two days after chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III said the two panels were set to hold informal talks on the third or fourth week of July before pushing through with formal discussions in August.
The contentious issue on socioeconomic reforms and the possible signing of an interim unilateral ceasefire will be high on the agenda during the fifth round of talks.
Ending the decades old communist insurgency has been a top priority for Duterte, but talks have been on and off under the feisty leader, who has accused the communists of being two-faced because of its continued armed attacks against government forces despite the ongoing talks.