PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte told communist rebels Sunday that they must accept his four conditions for a bilateral ceasefire or risk going to war with the government again.
“I am occupying a position with a burden of getting this country back to peace. That is a mission but there is a condition attached to it,” the President said in an interview in Cagayan de Oro City Sunday.
“The four… I gave them. Otherwise, I would be telling the Filipino people we will just have to fight. Until kingdom come,” he said.
Duterte earlier laid out the four conditions as: 1) an end to the rebels’ “revolutionary tax”; 2) the release of all prisoners held by the communists; 3) non-recognition of the communists’ territorial claims; and 4) a signed and binding ceasefire agreement.
Duterte said he still wanted peace with the rebels.
“Just give me other enemies, not my countrymen,” he said.
The National Democratic Front said they are open to the President’s four conditions, but insisted that other issues regarding the bilateral ceasefire should be discussed, including the eight-kilometer buffer zone between combatants, the role of the monitoring committee, and the definition of what constitutes hostile actions.
“This cannot be rushed and requires extensive discussions,” said NDF senior adviser Luis Jalandoni, who said there was goodwill on both sides.
On Monday, the President acknowledged that the peace talks may have encountered some problems because of the four conditions he set.
“We are having talks in The Netherlands,” he said. “They have not made any progress because I have some conditions to impose before we go back.”
Bello said both sides would seek common ground amid a rocky start.
He added that forging a ceasefire agreement is not about giving in or giving up, but about giving all for peace.
Duterte recently junked the immediate signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front unless the rebel group agrees to halt its collection of revolutionary taxes and to release all prisoners being held by the New People’s Army.
He also said government negotiators should come up with a signed document with the communists “establishing the parameters of the peace talks” and there should be a ceasefire agreement to be witnessed by the Norwegian government, which acts as third party facilitator in the peace talks.
On Sunday, the start of the fourth round of peace talks was pushed back to Monday after Duterte told the government panel led by Labor Secretary and chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III and Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza of his last-minute instructions before signing a bilateral ceasefire.
In Noordwijk in The Netherlands, Dureza said that the President’s first instruction is for the government panel to seal a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the communist rebels.
“Let’s address the conflict on the ground first,” Dureza said.
He said that the success of the fourth round of talks will depend on the outcome of discussions on the bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“We will measure the success or the non-success of this round depending on the outcomes on the issue of bilateral ceasefire,” he said.
Dureza also noted that the CPP/NDF panel sees the fourth round of talks this week as the final opportunity for government and communist insurgents to forge an accord.
“They say this is our last chance for a final settlement,” he said.
Bello said he saw “very difficult and exacting” talks with no guarantees of a breakthrough.
The fourth round of peace talks between the government and the communists was to be held at the seaside town of Noordwijk from April 2 to 6.
Agreements on social and economic reforms, constitutional and political reforms, and an end to hostilities were among the issues left hanging after Duterte terminated peace talks following rebel attacks on police.
Armed Forces chief Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Monday that operations against the NPA will continue until a binding joint ceasefire is signed between the insurgents and the government.
“Until no official signing for a joint ceasefire, along with a third party mechanism to implement this between the government and rebels, the AFP and the police will not suspend operations against the NPAs,” he said in Filipino.
Padilla said the AFP and the government had grown wary of unilateral ceasefires declared by the rebels as they could lift it anytime and strike military targets and civilians alike without any warning, as they did in February.
He added that the third party mechanism, which will be tasked to monitor violations of both sides, is vital as they can conduct investigations and determine who among the two parties are guilty of violating the truce.
“If they really want peace, it [will be demonstrated very] clearly in the signing of that joint ceasefire that they intend to have peace throughout the land and they intend to keep the interest of the people alive,” Padilla said.
A member of the left-leaning Gabriela party-list group on Monday supported the peace talks while attacking the Armed Forces for supporting landlords who block agrarian reform.
“Every farmer killed by AFP elements in cahoots with landlords and corporate plantation owners adds urgency to the long-term solution to landlessness, which breeds the armed conflict in the countryside,” said Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas.
The Kapayapaan Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace (Kapayapaan) said on Monday they were heartened at the upcoming fourth round of talks.
“We commend both sides for overcoming the obstacles that threatened to derail the peace talks and undermine its achievements in the last six months. It is our hope and prayer that the talks continue to progress and that both sides keep on pushing for the attainment of a just and lasting peace,” Kapayapaan said in a statement.
The group Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries in Mindanao urged the government to focus on peace and order after NPA rebels attacked banana plantations for not paying revolutionary taxes.
“We ask the government to please step up its protection of farm workers and businesses and to go after these lawless elements. The safety of our families and our livelihood is threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” said Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the group.
Maningo said if the violent attacks and harassment in farms persist, Mindanao’s most lucrative dollar earner will be compromised and will hurt the national economy.
The Philippines is the second biggest exporter of bananas in the world despite the small land area of the farms concentrated in Mindanao.
An investor in the banana industry, who doesn’t want to be identified for security reasons, lamented that government has been neglecting the banana industry, which has more economic contributions and has been employing hundreds of thousands of workers.
On March 30, the NPA attacked the facilities of Dole’s banana plantation in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City, burning the cold storage and palletizing facilities, a container van and other materials within the compound estimated at a cost of P6.9 million.
The company has stopped all farm operations leaving 56 workers and their families severely affected. Top management has yet to decide the fate of the business, depending on the security conditions of the almost 200-hectare banana farm.
On Feb. 2, the day the NPAs announced it is terminating the unilateral ceasefire, communist rebels in Bukidnon killed three soldiers and paralyzed heavy equipment of a food processor in the province.
Three days later, on Feb. 5, a banana processing plant in Pantukan, Compostela Valley was also burned by at least 10 unidentified armed men believed to be NPAs.
The caretaker of the packing plant, Rodrigo Boyose was hogtied while the rebels poured gasoline and burned the building.
On Feb. 25, about 80 members of the NPA burned down heavy equipment of a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon. With Maricel V. Cruz, Anna Leah E. Gonzales, PNA