MANILA - Government negotiators insisted Thursday President Rodrigo Duterte's demand that communist rebels stop collecting revolutionary taxes was no precondition for the resumption of formal talks.
Both sides are set to return to the negotiating table in less than two weeks even if the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) rejected Duterte's call.
Military spokesman Edgard Arevalo said the Armed Forces will go after communist guerrillas who would "extort" money from communities and local businessmen under the guise of collecting revolutionary taxes.
"The president and the commander and chief has already spoken," he told ABS-CBN News.
The rebels' practice of burning vehicles and equipment if businesses did not pay revolutionary taxes is against an existing agreement with the government, said Hernani Braganza, a member of the government peace panel.
The 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law prohibits the "destruction of the lives and property of the civilian population."
"Technically they should stop (collecting revolutionary taxes)," Braganza told reporters on the sidelines of a government workshop on the proposed agreement on social and economic reforms.
"The President is not coming out of the blue... (He) is simply saying, 'Napag-usapan na 'to. Napirmahan na 'to. Ayusin natin.'"
Braganza acknowledged that insisting on the issue of revolutionary taxes as a precondition for the talks might lead to the establishment of "more revolutionary organizations."
Rene Sarmiento, a government peace negotiator, cited previous discussions on proposed livelihood programs to convince rebels to do away with revolutionary taxation.
"Maganda kung mahinto po yan while the negotiations are going on and this is a personal opinion on the matter," he told reporters.
"But I think it will stop if there is a good economic package acceptable to them. With livelihood programs, I think they will be open to this possibility."
Rey Casambre, a negotiator for the rebels, said revolutionary taxes fund "services" in areas supposedly controlled by the New People's Army.