NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands - The government and communist rebels on Sunday conducted back channel talks instead of opening the fourth round of peace talks here, after President Rodrigo Duterte outlined 4 conditions for the negotiations to proceed.
In an interview hours ahead of the talks' resumption, Duterte demanded the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement; a stop to the alleged extortion activities of rebels; the release of all political prisoners; and the non-recognition of any territorial claim made by the communists.
Leaders of the National Democratic Front (NDF) were tight-lipped when asked to comment on the conditions set by the President.
A ranking NDF negotiator however admitted that they were locked in a problem-solving stage in an apparent bid to ease the impact of the conditions on their comrades in the countryside.
The 4th round of peace negotiations is the first that would take place without separate ceasefire declarations by the rebels and the Duterte government.
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza earlier expressed support for Duterte's move to call off any unilateral ceasefire.
"Nakikita mo na may talks na nga at almost on the verge already of starting talks, almost about to declare a unilateral ceasefire eh meron pa mga pag atake eh parang lumalabas na pinabayaan natin sila, hindi maganda dating nun sa taumbayan," Dureza said in an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News.
(You have seen that we've been almost on the verge already of starting talks and declaring a unilateral ceasefire. The rebels however have continued their attacks. The government is perceived to have done nothing and that is not good for the public.)
Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla also backed the absence of a government ceasefire pending the rebels' compliance to the demands of the President.
"Para po sa panig ng pamahalaan, wala pong magiging deklarasyon ng tinatawag na unilateral ceasefire. Ang hinihiling po ng ating pamhalaan, base po sa nakuha nating guidance sa ating commander-in-chief, ay magkaroon ng lagdaan ng isang joint ceasefire agreement," Padilla told radio DZMM.
(The government will not declare a unilateral ceasefire. What the government demands, based on the guidance of our commander-in-chief, is the signing of a joint ceasefire agreement.)
The joint truce, he added, should be facilitated by third party negotiators and identify mechanisms for penalizing violations.
It was not yet clear if the upcoming talks will continue tackling the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms as of this posting.