MANILA - The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said Thursday it is hopeful that President Rodrigo Duterte's move to abandon peace talks was just a means of "expressing his anger" over a communist attack that killed an infant.
Duterte has said he is no longer inclined to resume peace talks with the communists, whom he branded as "terrorists" and "criminals," after a 4-month-old girl was killed by a stray bullet in a rebel ambush in Bukidnon earlier this month.
On Wednesday, the government announced it is cancelling all planned meetings with the NDFP in line with the President's order.
"We are hopeful that all these rants of the President in the last few days are just that -- that he is expressing his anger and would return to trying to talk with us to achieve basic social and economic reforms in the country," NDFP chief peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said in a phone interview with ANC.
"There is a clamor by the people for a just peace in the struggle for social and national liberation of the Filipino people so if the President would like to abandon that and stop engaging in peace negotiations, that's his responsibility, his own lookout," he added.
The government, he said, should not backtrack on the promises and agreements they made, including Duterte's vow to release all political prisoners.
ARE COMMUNISTS TERRORISTS?
Agcaoili criticized Duterte's plan to tag communists as a terrorist group, saying the NDFP has not carried out any transnational operations and has clashed only with "combatants, not civilians."
The infant's death in the communist attack in Bukidnon, he said, was "unfortunate," but the NDFP cannot allow security forces to allegedly attack communities suspected of supporting communists.
"It's simple. If they (state troops) stay in their barracks they would not be ambushed," Agcaoili said.
He also warned that branding communists as terrorists would "have an effect in the continuity of the peace negotiations."
Duterte, a former student of communist leader Jose Maria Sison, had sought an end to the nearly 5 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.
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 New People's Army, the NDFP armed wing, as a terrorist group. The NPA has been on the United States' terror list since 2002.