MANILA - Government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday said there is still hope for the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to terminate talks with the communists.
Bello said that while the President has already terminated the negotiations, this does not mean it could no longer be revived.
“Sinong nagsabing walang pag-asa?” Bello told reporters.
“May pag-asa habang nabubuhay si Presidente at ako.”
Bello said he was saddened by the recent development in the peace talks, but he is confident that the two sides would overcome this “setback.”
“Honestly, I’m sad dahil alam ko naman na ang legacy na iniisip ng ating Pangulo na ibigay sa ating bansa is a just, inclusive and lasting peace,” he said.
“So ito ay medyo setback lang sa road to peace, one of the big humps in the road to peace. Pero I’m sure na iyong humps will someday disappear and we will go back to the road to peace.”
Duterte in November terminated government’s peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), citing continued attacks of its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), against state troops.
The President earlier this week declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as terror organizations, further dimming hopes that the peace talks could still be salvaged.
Duterte also ordered the “mass arrest” of some 20 NDFP consultants, including Communist Party of the Philippines leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon. The two were granted conditional release so they could participate in the peace talks, which were revived when the President, a self-proclaimed socialist, came to power.
Bello said the communists must show sincerity if they really want to salvage the peace talks.
“Ang aking ano is iyong enabling environment. In other words, dapat magpakita naman sila ng sincerity in talking peace with government,” Bello said.
“Ang nangyayari kasi, the President has been showing goodwill and has shown strong political will to pursue the talks to its radical conclusion, pero hindi sinuklian ng the same level of sincerity eh. Siguro hinahanap ng Presidente natin na magpakita rin iyong NDF-CPP-NPA.”
Duterte, a former student of CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, had sought to end the nearly 50-year communist insurgency early in his term, even appointing leftists to his Cabinet as a demonstration of the two sides' warming ties.
As a long-time Davao City mayor, he was close to the leftist movement. But, when he became President, he said he realized that he cannot concede the country’s sovereignty to the communists, who he said is seeking to establish a coalition government with his administration.
Since the collapse of the talks, major skirmishes have occurred between state forces and suspected NPA members.
With Duterte abandoning the peace table, there have been fears of mass arrests and increased killings of left-leaning activists.
Human rights group Karapatan has also decried killings of activists since the collapse of the peace talks and the declaration of the CPP-NPA as a terror group.
The President recently ordered the military and police to shoot armed NPA rebels on sight.