MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - The Philippine government is cancelling all planned meetings with communist rebels in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's order, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said Wednesday.
Duterte has said he is no longer inclined to resume peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), who he branded as "terrorists" and "criminals."
"We are hereby announcing today the cancellation of all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDF in line with President Duterte’s directive that there will be no more peace talks with them," Dureza said in a statement.
"Recent tragic and violent incidents all over the country committed by the communist rebels left the President with no other choice but to arrive at this decision. We take guidance from the President’s recent announcements and declarations."
"This is an unfortunate development in our work for peace. Never before have we all reached this far in our negotiations with them," he added.
Duterte, a former student of CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, had sought an end to the nearly five decade-long Maoist insurgency early in his term.
He earlier asked the group to nominate leftist activists who could join his Cabinet, but 2 of his appointees, Judy Taguiwalo in Social Welfare and Rafael Mariano in Agrarian Reform, were rejected by lawmakers.
On Tuesday, Duterte also nixed the idea of a truce with the rebels in time for Christmas after a 4-month-old girl was killed by a stray bullet in an NPA ambush in Talakag town, Bukidnon earlier this month.
MILITARY, POLICE TO HEED DUTERTE'S ORDER
Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana said the military will continue to pursue operations against armed rebels and called on the New People's Army (NPA) to surrender.
"We strongly suggest to the NPA to lay down their arms, surrender, return to society and be part of the real change espoused by the national leadership," Lorenzana said.
Philippine National Police spokesperson Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos meanwhile said the police would heed Duterte's order that there will be no ceasefire with the NPA this Christmas season.
"We will follow the order of the Commander-in-Chief, the Chief Executive, and the President. So, we will make the necessary guidelines to implement the given announcement or directive," Carlos said in a phone interview.
The police will continue its normal combat patrol and anti-insurgency operations and will focus on maintaining peace and order, he said.
"Kami as support agency to the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in the implementation dito sa counter-insurgency, we will do our role, we will still perform our role. Kasi 'yung practice, 'pag mayroon tayong ceasefire, hindi tayo nagte-take ng offensive actions," Carlos said.
Government officials and NDF negotiators had 4 rounds of talks in Europe, where Sison is based, before Duterte suspended the negotiations in May.
Although he had hinted at possibly resuming talks in the months thereafter, Duterte on Saturday said he would declare the NPA, the organization's armed wing, as a terrorist group. The NPA has been on the United States' terror list since 2002.
Dureza said Duterte has taken "unprecedented steps" in trying to bring peace, but "the Communist Party and its armed elements have not shown reciprocity."
"There will be no peace negotiations anymore with the CPP/NPA/NDF until such time as the desired enabling environment conducive to a change in the government’s position becomes evident," he said.
"Despite this setback (hopefully only temporary), we remain steadfast and undeterred in our unrelenting journey for sustainable and just peace," he added.--with a report from Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News