PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte formally ended peace talks with communist rebels on Tuesday after the government served notice to the National Democratic Front to end the 22-year Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which guaranteed free and unhindered passage to communist negotiators.
“Following the President’s announcement of the cancellation of the peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and per his instructions, the government is hereby serving this notice of the termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees [Jasig],” Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said in aletter dated Feb. 7, addressed to Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison and NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.
The agreement, formalized in 1995 under the Ramos administration, mandates the government to send the NDF a written notice of termination of the peace talks that would take effect only 30 days after the NDF’s receipt of the notice.
But Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said that communist negotiators who were facing court charges cannot invoke immunity under the Jasig, saying that the courts granted temporary liberty to NDF negotiators due to the bail granted at the behest of the government’s request for them to participate in the peace negotiations.
“As informed by Office of the Executive Secretary, the rearrest order of the members of the NDF panel previously under detention and provisionally released to join the peace talks will be issued by the courts,” Duterte’s spokesman said in a Palace press briefing.
“Basically, this is now under the jurisdiction of the courts… The DoJ will be the one to invoke the court to cancel [their] bail,” he added.
“Now, that was given as a court order. If and when that is revoked, then they revert back to their terrorist status,” he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that since the talks were already terminated, there is “no basis to keep them out in the open and [they can] be arrested. That’s what I understand from the President’s instruction.”
Lorenzana added that the NDF negotiators could not validly invoke the Jasig because it applied only to those who were in hiding and whom the government invited to participate in the peace talks.
“Their crime does not go away. They were not given an amnesty or a pardon,” he said in Filipino.
Lorenzana said the Armed Forces will be engaging is going all-out against the communist New People’s Army, which they now consider a terrorist group.
“What’s their difference with the Abu Sayyaf? The Abu Sayyaf kidnap people and they get money. The NPA will threaten those businessmen and also get money,” said Lorenzana.
“There’s no difference at all,” he added.
Lorenzana noted that the NPA is a huge threat to national security as its members have been menacing communities and extorting money from businessmen.
“We will hunt them down and maybe stop them from doing what they are doing,” Lorenzana said.
Duterte ended the government’s unilateral ceasefire with the communist rebels Friday and announced the termination of peace talks over the weekend.
Some 23 detainees, all identified as NDF consultants who took part in the peace talks in Oslo and Rome were ordered arrested by Duterte following the collapse of the peace talks.
Among them were Benito Tiamzon, chairman of the CPP and the NPA and wife Wilma, CPP-NPA secretary-general, who were released Aug. 19, 2016.
Also included were Loisa Magpatoc, thead of the Far South Mindanao command of the CPP-NPA; Reynante Gamara, alleged secretary of CPP’s Metro Manila Regional Party Committee; Tirso Alcantara, spokesman of NDF Southern Tagalog region; Adelberto Silva, secretary-general of the CPP-NPA; Cochita Araneta Bocala, leader of CPP Panay Island Regional Party Committee; and Alan Jazmines, member of the CPP central committee and secretary general of the party.
The defense chief also appealed to NDF members to turn themselves in.
Duterte earlier called the communists “spoiled brats” after he scrapped the government’s peace talks in the wake of several rebel attacks on government troops, even before their unilateral ceasefire ended.
Dureza said despite the collapse of the talks, the government remained committed to socio-economic reforms that would benefit the people.
It would also continue “to pursue other paths to peace,” he said.
“We assure our people that the government will continue its vigilance in the preservation of law and order and in protecting our people against insurgent activities and threats of terrorism, and pursue the enhancement of our democratic institutions.”
The Justice Department was set to issue an immigration lookout bulletin and to revoke the bail bond of 17 NDF consultants who were temporarily released to join the peace negotiations.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the lookout bulletin will be issued to prevent the NDF consultants, who have since returned to the country after the third round of talks in Rome, from seeking refuge in other countries.
NDF legal consultant Edre Olalia insisted on Monday that political consultants released on bail cannot be arrested again even if Duterte ordered it.
Olalia pointed out that the peace negotiations have not been properly terminated so the consultants are still guaranteed “immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.”
He also added that Duterte cannot just order the arrest of the peace consultants as they have permission from the courts that allowed them to post bail for their temporary liberty for six months.
Olalia also cited the guarantees of safety and immunity under the Jasig.
Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny Emano on Tuesday said he was not hiding NDF negotiator Wilfred “Ka Paris” Mapano.
After Duterte issued his arrest order, Col. Francis Carandang of the 58th Infantry Battalion called on the governor asking about Mapano’s whereabouts.
Emano said it was a routine call to ask him if he knew where the NDF negotiator was, not an accusation.
“Of course I will help them if I know, I will tell,” Emano said.
The governor said he believed that the President was doing the right thing in defending the country, and said peace talks should continue only when there is a ceasefire in place.
“It cannot be that the top is talking peace and the ground below are waging war. That is no way to bring peace,” Emano said. “How can one talk of peace when their allies, friends and comrades are waging war?”
He also said localized peace talks will not work because it cannot be that there would be peace in his province but war in other provinces.
Agcaoili on Tuesday said it was up to the leftist members of Duterte’s Cabinet if they wanted to remain in the administration, now that peace talks have collapsed.
“It is Duterte’s decision, as well as theirs, whether to remain or not in their respective positions,” Agcaoili said.
“It depends on the perception of those Cabinet officials on whether, by remaining, they can still continue to be of service to the people or not,” he added.
The Palace, however, said that leftist members of the Cabinet will remain despite the breakdown of the peace talks.
“They are still [in the] Cabinet,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
Duterte, shortly after winning the presidency, said that he would be willing to give Cabinet posts to the Communist Party of the Philippines should they decide to join his government.
After the NDF gave a shortlist of possible names, Duterte gave leftists control of key agencies involved in the delivery of basic services — including the Department of Agrarian Reform given to former Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano and Department of Social Welfare and Development given to UP professor Judy Taguiwalo.
Members of leftist groups who were likewise given posts in the Duterte government were Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, who now leads the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC); former Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, who leads the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor (PCUP); and Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglungsod, who is an undersecretary at the Department of Labor and Employment.
The Defense chief praised the leftist scretaries for being passionate in delivering services to the poor.
“Personally, I believe they are doing their jobs very well,” he said.
Abella confirmed that Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza were present in the Cabinet meeting Tuesday.
Agcaoili lauded the leftists in Cabinet for their continued service to the masses amid challenges ahead.
“They have been doing excellent work in providing support and services to the people despite enormous bureaucratic constraints, severely limited resources, and the overall anti-people neoliberal approach, programs and policies of the regime,” Agcaoili said.
“The NDFP-recommended members in the Cabinet were selected for their individual qualifications—skills, talent, progressive views, and integrity–in their respective positions,” he added.
The NDF panel, currently in Norway, is already working to resolve challenges posed by President Duterte’s pronouncements terminating the peace talks.
“Their lawyers are already working on it,” Agcaoili added.
Ground forces, meanwhile, were hunting NPA rebels, two of whom were killed as fighting was reported in five separate instances in Luzon and the Visayas.
Tanks and special forces troopers have been mobilized in the remote hinterlands to neutralize the NPA rebels, the military said.
“We will sustain the conduct of focused combat operations,” AFP Public Affairs Office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
“We are going to use all available assets of our Armed Forces to accomplish our mission,” Arevalo said.
The latest clashes broke out on the outskirts of Sorsogon and Rizal provinces, two days after Duterte declared an end to peace talks.
In Bukidnon and Surigao provinces, security forces launched massive search and destroy operations against the NPA, particularly those responsible for the killing of four Army soldiers.
In Sorsogon, fighting with some 15 rebels broke out in Sitio Trece Martirez, Casiguran town. Two soldiers were wounded.