Philippines: Peace Talks With Communists to Resume Despite Recent Attacks

Felipe Villamor
170503-PH-talks-620.jpg New People’s Army guerrillas stand in formation in the hinterlands of Davao del Sur province in the southern Philippines, April 19, 2017.

The Philippines’ chief peace adviser said Wednesday that negotiations to end one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies would go on despite a recent attack blamed on communist guerrillas.

Rebels with the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, attacked three rubber manufacturing facilities in the southern city of Davao on Saturday, a day before Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the region.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the government was dismayed that NPA forces “still continue to wage attacks that victimize civilians and inflict damage on the civilian sector” even as talks were continuing.

“Although a bilateral ceasefire is not yet in place, the public’s common reaction to these incidents questions the sincerity of those whom we talk and deal with across the table,” Dureza said.

“The public also questions their capacity to manage and control their forces on the ground. There are even calls now to stop the talks altogether and pursue an all-out military offensive against their armed groups,” he said.

Dureza urged the rebels to stop their attacks and emphasized that government security forces “must and can” stop the guerrilla offensives.

But the incidents, he said, should not derail the talks. He said government “must pursue with more vigor, these peace engagements with the communist rebels.”

‘Penchant for lawlessness’

The NPA has been waging war since the late 1960s, and the 220,000-strong Philippine military estimates guerrilla strength at 3,200 fighters. Some 40,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians have been slain over the course of the conflict.

Negotiations between Manila and the rebels briefly collapsed in February after the guerrillas killed several soldiers and police in a series of attacks, spurring President Rodrigo Duterte to angrily call off the talks.

The attacks in Davao on Saturday came two days after the rebels freed a captive police officer as a gesture of goodwill for peace negotiations between the government and the NPA.

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said the attacks were “acts of terrorism.”

“I take what happened today as a personal insult especially because the local government of Davao City has been supportive of the peace negotiations,” she said in a statement that day.

“We condemn these acts committed by a group that pretends to champion social justice and equality,” Duterte-Carpio said.

She said that with the attack, the NPA had proven itself to be a terrorist organization with a “continued penchant for lawlessness and bloodbath.”

Manila’s chief negotiator with the rebels, Silvestre Bello III, has been asked to prepare for the new round of talks from May 27 to June 1 in the Netherlands, Dureza said.

The working committees of both sides have been meeting continuously in the country for the purpose, Dureza said.

Duterte, a self-confessed leftist, is a former student of Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison.

When he assumed authority as the country’s 16th president in June 2016, Duterte said resumption of peace negotiations with the communist rebels would be among his priorities.

Duterte has also invited the ailing Sison to come back to the Philippines, and said the government would ask the United States to remove his name from a list of wanted foreign terrorists.


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