After Marawi war, govt to go after NPA, but Palace clarifies talks not yet terminated
MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he no longer wanted to talk with communist rebels, following a string of attacks on state forces.
"Marami silang utang sa atin. Ayoko nang makipag-usap sa kanila, marami na akong pulis na pinatay nila. Marami na akong sundalong pinatay nila," Duterte told soldiers during a surprise visit to Marawi City.
(They owe me a huge debt. I don't want to talk with them anymore. They have killed too many of my policemen and soldiers.)
On Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said government has not formally terminated the talks despite the President's pronouncements.
“Regarding the peace talks, everything is on hold at this stage until the conditions favorable [for the talks] are agreed upon by both parties,” Abella said in a news conference.
“At this stage there is no talk, until the [conditions] for the enabling environment [are present],” he added.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza meanwhile said the President's statement must be taken "as is."
"Let's not interpret. I have not heard him say categorically "talks over or terminated." Did he," Dureza said in a text message to reporters.
What was cancelled, he said, were the backchannel talks set this week, where the two panels were supposed to work out a possible resumption of the fifth round of negotiations suspended in May.
"If there will be a new officially announced position, then let's all wait for a categorical statement coming from the president no less," Dureza said.
Speaking to ANC Friday morning, government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III, echoed Dureza's clarification.
"The backchannel talks which was supposed to have been held yesterday until the 23rd was cancelled, so ang na-cancel lang is the backchannel talks, which was intended to pave the way for the resumption of the fifth formal round of talks," he said in a phone interview.
The government earlier called off backchannel negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines after its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA) attacked government troops in several provinces.
A militiaman was killed while 4 officers of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were wounded in an NPA ambush in Arakan, North Cotobato on Wednesday.
NPA rebels in Palawan province also gunned down 2 members of the Philippine Marines Wednesday and bombed a military truck the day before.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed support for the President's decision, saying communist rebels only reciprocated government's sincerity with "double talk and treachery."
"We are all for peace. Sino ba ang ayaw maging mapayapa ang ating bansa (Who would not want our country to be peaceful)? But we can only talk about peace when both sides mean what they say," Lorenzana said.
"Tiwala ako sa integridad at katapatan ng ating Government Peace Panel. Alam kong ginagawa nila ang sa tingin nila ay nararapat para sa bayan, alinsunod sa batas at adhikain ng ating Pangulo (I trust the integrity and honesty of our government peace panel. I know that they are doing everything they can that they believe is right for the country, compliant with the law and the aspirations of our President). I, however, question the sincerity, integrity, and motives of the other side," Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana also blasted rebel attacks amid the ongoing siege in Marawi City, where more than 500 have died and roughly 400,000 have been displaced in the conflict zone and nearby areas.
"As our security forces continue to fight terrorists in Mindanao and as the government gets ready to start the recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of Marawi City, the treacherous communist terrorists NPA has once again shown their utter lack of empathy towards our suffering countrymen," he said.
Duterte, who once raised hopes of ending the decades-long communist insurgency, said he would unleash security forces against the NPA after the government liberated Marawi City in the south from Islamic State-inspired extremists.
"There is a strong resurgence, nabubuhay na naman ang NPA. 'Pag naubos na ang mga ulol d'yan (terorista sa Marawi), mag-reorient tayo, NPA naman," said Duterte during his visit to Marawi City Thursday, clad in military fatigues.
(There is a strong resurgence, the NPA is coming back again. After we have crushed terrorists in Marawi, we will re-orient and target the NPA.)
-- With Dharel Placido and Dexter Ganibe, ABS-CBN News