MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday gave yet another hint that he is open to resuming peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) just weeks after he terminated negotiations with communist rebels and declared them terrorists.
In a speech during the 84th anniversary celebration of the Department of Labor and Employment in Bulacan, Duterte said Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the chief government negotiator, can “always resuscitate it at some other time.”
The President said one of his conditions is for the New People’s Army to stop collecting so-called revolutionary taxes from businesses.
“We can subsidize the talks and even the billeting, ako na ang mag-gastos. But you have to stop [from extorting],” Duterte said.
In an interview on Thursday, Bello said while the President has already terminated the peace talks, 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 the two sides will overcome this “setback.”
Duterte in November terminated government’s peace talks with the 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 also 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,” he said Thursday.
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.