President Duterte 'serious' on canceling peace talks with communists: chief peace negotiator

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte's orders to cancel formal peace talks and backdoor negotiations with the Philippine communists is "serious," his chief peace negotiator said Thursday.

This, as a Palace official said a signed formal notice of termination of peace talks with the communists from President Rodrigo Duterte is forthcoming.

"It was very clear he will give it," said Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag on Thursday at a news briefing in Malacanang.

Speaking on CNN Philippines' "The Source," the government's chief peace negotiator with the communists, Silvestre Bello III said the President's "marching order" to the government panel to cancel all talks, stands.

"The President's statement is very clear: He said 'No more talks.' So that's our marching order: 'No talks.'"

 

When he assumed the presidency in 2016, Duterte revived stalled peace talks between the government and communist rebels. Hope ran high that the insurgency, which is scattered in rural areas of the Philippines, would come to an end soon.

But the President's most recent remarks underscored his decision to cancel the talks, said Bello.

"'Yung decision niya 'No more talks,' mukhang seryoso. I think he repeated that last night," the peace adviser said in the interview, adding "Obviously, serious siya."

Duterte, speaking with reporters Wednesday after a ceremony at the Bureau of Internal Revenue, scoffed at sending the communists a document formally terminating the peace talks.

When asked if notice was given, he replied with a rhetorical question: "'Ayaw ko na,' sabi ko. (translation: I said, 'I don't want' (talks).) So is there any other protocol that I have to comply before it becomes final?"

"Give me a piece of paper. I will write it for you. Give it to them," the President added.

Word war between President and Joma: "Lovers' quarrel"

Despite all talks on ice, likened a spat between Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison as a "lovers' quarrel."

"I look at it as a lover's quarrel," Bello said. "They like each other. They've been friends. In fact, Joma Sison was the professor of the President," he added.

"So 'yung exchange of very heavy words, parang normal. Pagka-kaibigan kayo, 'di ba nagmumurahan kayo," said Bello. (Translation: "...when you're friends, don't you trade curses with each other?")

Duterte and Sison have been engaged in a word war for weeks, with the President alleging the exiled, Netherlands-based communist leader was suffering from colon cancer and lacked the courage to return to the country.

Duterte's ire was further inflamed by the NPA's ambush of his security detail in North Cotabato in July. Backchannel talks to get the two groups back on the negotiating table were canceled after the incident.

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

Sison in return, has referred to the Duterte as the "number one drug addict in the Philippines" in reference to the President's war on drugs, and claimed that he was using attacks by the communists' armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), to justify martial law in the south. The CPP's information bureau on July 31 criticized Duterte's remarks against Sison. The "tirades against Prof. Jose Ma. Sison are a vain attempt to derogate a giant of a revolutionary intellectual and leader," it said.

The verbal tussle began after the President ordered the fifth round of peace talks from May 27 to June 1 in the Netherlands canceled as government pointed out bad faith on the communists' part. Sison serves as chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the communists in the talks.

READ: Duterte: No more talks with communist rebels

Still holding out hope

Bello, who has been involved in the peace process for the past 16 years under different presidential administrations, said he was no stranger to obstacles in the decades-old peace process.

"We have been through worse situations. There was a time when it was canceled. Pinagmumura kami ni former President Ramos. (We were being cursed by former President Ramos. He said...) Sabi niya, 'I never authorized you to terminate the talk. Your mandate is to talk, not to cancel,'" he recounted, referring to Fidel Ramos who was president from 1992 to 1998.

He harbored some hope that peace negotiations would resume.

"Kami din mga peace advocates, we never give up," Bello said.

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.