Duterte: No peace talks with communist rebels if hostilities continue

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 19) — President Rodrigo Duterte said the government should not resume formal peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) unless its rebels stop attacking government troops in Mindanao. 

A July 19 Palace statement said Duterte gave this instruction to the government peace panel in a July 18 meeting, where they discussed the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the rebels.

The statement comes after the CPP said on July 18 that it would oppose Duterte's plan to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2017, a move the group claims to be directed against them.

Read: Duterte wants to extend martial law until end of 2017

"Revolutionary forces nationwide are firmly united and ever determined to resist martial law in Mindanao," the group said. "The New People's Army must continue to strengthen itself nationwide by carrying out armed counteractions and offensives across the country to defeat the Mindanao martial law and nationwide all-out war."

The New People's Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the CPP.

In a July 19 statement, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the CPP should "stand against a common enemy," even with the proposed extension.

"The Duterte administration has shown in numerous occasions its strong commitment to bring peace," he said. "It is time for the CPP/NPA/NDFP to reciprocate the government' gestures of goodwill by ending their extortion and criminal activities and re-directing their energy to help eradicate terrorism and violent extremism in Mindanao."

Meanwhile, members of the leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also met Duterte on July 18.

In a statement, the group said the peace talks should continue despite the lack of a prolonged ceasefire.

"We reiterated our position that the peace talks must continue because it is in the interest of the people and that the surest way to achieve peace is through socio-economic and political reforms," Bayan said. "It appears that the fate of the talks and the people's desire for a just peace will again be held hostage by the ceasefire issue."

'Can we stop fighting?'

The Palace statement reiterated Duterte's call to end hostilities between government forces and communist rebels.

Read: Duterte to communists: Can we stop fighting for a while?

"Can you just stop fighting for a while?" he said in a July 1 speech at the 50th founding anniversary of Davao del Norte. "You know, we can talk, but do not give me a double-face. 'Pag kinalaban mo pulis ko, 'pag binaril mo yung sundalo, kalaban talaga tayo [If you fight my police officers and shoot my soldiers, we'll really be enemies]."

Initially set on May 27 to June 1, the fifth round of peace talks were suspended due to intensified attacks by the NPA against government forces in Mindanao despite the declaration of martial law.

Read: Gov't 'will not proceed' peace talks with communist rebels

Duterte declared martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao on May 23 after members of the Maute terrorist group charged into Marawi City as government forces were attempting to arrest former Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was appointed "emir" of Southeast Asia by terrorist group ISIS.

Read: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

The CPP said on May 25 that "Duterte's martial law is against the people, [and] it is imperative for the New People's Army to take action to oppose and fight it in order to defend the people's rights and interests."

Backchannel talks

The Palace statement added that the peace panel is set to conduct backchannel talks with the National Democratic Front, which represents the CPP in the peace talks, to discuss the resumption of formal negotiations between the two groups.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus 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, including suspending operations against the military and the police and stopping all their extortion activities on the ground, among others.

They stressed that the NDF needs to order the NPA to halt all offensive operations against government troops "in order to pursue their shared goal of sustaining economic development throughout Mindanao."

Duterte lifted on Feb. 3 the government's unilateral ceasefire against the NPA, saying the group's demand were too much.

Read: Duterte lifts ceasefire; says communists' demands 'too huge, impossible to meet'

This came after the group said on Feb. 1 that it would continue fighting the government starting Feb. 10.

Read: Rebels end unilateral ceasefire: We'll 'negotiate while fighting'

According to Duterte, after releasing the communist leaders and engaging them in peace talks in Oslo, Norway, the reds are now asking the government to free all 400 political prisoners from the communist side - a demand the government, Duterte said, cannot so easily meet.

"I thought all the while we have the ceasefire, suddenly they lifted it because they wanted ang Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) would want me to release 400 prisoners," Duterte said.