Defense chief: Duterte decided to cancel peace talks prior to military recommendation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 18) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to cancel the peace talks with communist rebels before the military gave their recommendation to do so.

"The President has already decided to postpone the peace talks when the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) gave their security briefing and a recommendation to postpone the resumption of the talks for three months," Lorenzana said.

"Their reason was to be able to study the signed stand down agreement and how to implement it," he added.

READ: Stand-down agreement between gov't, NDFP shows progress in talks

On June 14, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the fifth round of peace talks slated on June 28 in Oslo, Norway would "not happen as originally set and as originally announced by the media." He said more consultations with the public were needed.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines on Sunday released a statement saying the unilateral cancellation of the talks by the government was to give way to the ongoing campaign plan of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for "all-out military offensive across the country until the end of 2018."

Lorenzana said this is "not true," and that Duterte decided to postpone the negotiations during a command conference led by government panel chair Silvestre Bello III.

"It was in the course of this briefing and subsequent question and answer that the President decided that he needs more time to review all past agreements between the NDF (National Democratic Front) and GRP (government of the Philippines) and the results of the recent backchanneling," Lorenzana said.

Dureza also said on Sunday Duterte had ordered the postponement of peace talks to further study the negotiations.

"Sabi [ni President Duterte,] 'I would like to study this very well.' And so he said, 'Give me time.' Kaya yung na-announce na resumption of talks on June 28, sabi niya, 'Wag muna,'" he added.

[Translation: President Duterte said, 'I would like to study this very well.' And so he said, 'Give me time.' That's why when it was announced that the talks will resume on June 28, he said, 'Not now.']

Dureza said while the consultations are on hold, they will hold discussions with different sectors of the community, including Church-based groups, the youth, and the business sector.

"We have to engage the bigger table eh, hindi lang yung tinatawag natin na small table as I always say," Dureza said.

In May, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison said the government and the NDFP were set to sign an interim peace agreement also on June 28, which could lead to peace talks between the both sides.

Representatives of the government and the rebels had been holding back channel discussions about returning to the negotiating table, after Duterte walked away from the talks in November 2017. The President ended the on-and-off negotiations with Communist rebels as both sides accused each other of violating their ceasefire agreement.

The Duterte administration is the sixth to hold peace talks with the NDF, political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging nearly five decades of insurgency against the government.