PEACE talks between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hit a snag anew, as a result of the guerilla “attack” in Mindanao that hurt four members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).
Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the government peace panel would not pursue scheduled informal talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the CPP, after the New People’s Army (NPA), the group’s armed wing, engaged a convoy of the President’s security personnel early Wednesday morning in the southern Philippines.
“I am announcing the cancellation of backchannel talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF originally set within the next few days in Europe due to recent developments involving attacks done by the NPAs,” Dureza said in a statement.
“The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still not present up to this time,” he added.
The holding of the informal talks, which was announced recently by Silvestre Bello III, chair of the government peace panel talking with the communist rebels, was agreed by both parties earlier in a bid to resume the stalled fifth round of formal peace negotiations.
Besides the four wounded PSG personnel, a militiaman was killed during the firefight. The rebels also took hostage a government agent.
Government officials said the PSG personnel, who were doing “normal administrative movement for coordination,” encountered some 50 NPA rebels disguising as soldiers at a checkpoint in Arakan town, Cotabato province.
The communist rebels admitted they staged the checkpoint, and that the firefight occurred because the passengers of the unmarked armored vehicle refused to open the doors.
Duterte was not with the PSG convoy.
A day before the firefight between Duterte’s bodyguards and the NPA rebels, the President met with officials and members of the government peace panel to discuss the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with communist rebels, a statement from Malacañang said.
During their meeting held at Malacañang Palace, the President directed the government panel negotiating with the NDF not to resume formal peace talks unless the rebels agree to stop their attacks against government troops in Mindanao.
The government panel, led by chief negotiator Secretary Silvestre Bello III, is set to conduct backchannel talks with the NDF to discuss the resumption of formal negotiations between the two groups, the statement said.
In the Malacañang statement, Dureza said the resumption of formal talks would depend on the rebel group’s commitment to follow certain guidelines for a possible ceasefire deal with government.
“This includes suspending operations against the military and the police and stopping all their extortion activities on the ground, among others,” the statement said.
However, Dureza later on announced the government will not hold informal talks with the communist rebels following the PSG encounter with the insurgents.
Duterte, for his part, stressed on Tuesday “that the communists really need to stop engaging the military in Mindanao if they want to continue the peace negotiations,” adding that the government “has always dealt with the communist rebels in good faith.”
Before Dureza announced the cancellation of the informal talks, the government panel was planning to discuss the possible inclusion of socio-economic provisions in the interim peace agreement with the communist group.
They stressed that the NDFP needs to order its armed wing to halt all offensive operations against government troops in order to pursue their shared goal of sustaining economic development throughout Mindanao.
The fifth round of peace talks with the rebels was suspended on May 27 following orders by the CPP to the NPA to intensify attacks against security forces after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23.
He put Mindanao under martial law for 60 days after the ISIS-inspired Maute Group clashed with government security forces trying to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader who was designated as “emir” of ISIS in Southeast Asia, in Marawi City.
The government is still conducting clearing operations in Marawi as of Thursday.
Duterte said he wants the martial law in Mindanao extended until the end of the year to fully crush the ISIS-inspired and other local terrorist groups operating in the island.
The Philippine Congress is set to hold a special session on Saturday, July 22, to deliberate the extension of martial law in Mindanao.