MANILA (UPDATED) -- President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday denied ordering a former Philippine Coconut Authority chief to lead the backdoor talks with communist leader Jose Maria Sison, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Avelino "Billy" Andal, who is currently a member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, earlier claimed that Duterte told him about his new task last week in an event in Manila.
Lorenzana, however, said this was "fake news."
"Latest info on Billy Andal’s claim that he was tapped by PRRD to conduct back channeling with the CPP/NPA. It is fake news. The President says he never ordered him to do so," he said.
Andal claimed he already started reaching out to his connections in order to be able to talk to Sison, aiming to resume formal negotiations between the state and the communist rebels.
The government last year suspended back-channel negotiations with communists as they reviewed all signed agreements with the rebels.
Peace talks between the government and the communist rebels broke down in July 2017 after the government cited continued attacks by the New People's Army, the Communist Party's armed wing.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday Duterte has always been open to return to the negotiating table despite the chief executive's strong words against the Reds.
--reports from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News