PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the government still hopes to pursue peace talks with communist rebels even after he called off a unilateral ceasefire that he declared during his State of the Nation Address last week.
“We are hoping that we can just talk. Maybe we did not understand each other,” Duterte said, during a statement delivered before newly appointed officials who took their oath inside Rizal Hall in Malacañang.
“The best way really is to talk again and maybe find out if it’s reachable or beyond our reach,” Duterte said, referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
The government and communist leaders had earlier agreed to resume formal peace talks on Aug. 20 in Oslo, Norway, before a rebel ambush killed a militiaman in Davao Del Norte, prompting Duterte to call off the ceasefire on Saturday.
“I hope we can proceed with the talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines,” Duterte said Monday.
Communist leaders led by CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison had said earlier they remained committed to peace talks on Aug. 20, despite the exchange of accusations over the Davao del Norte ambush, which came just two days after Duterte had declared the unilateral ceasefire.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said Monday the government will study all options and consult with all sectors regarding a ceasefire with the communist rebels.
“Let’s see. Let us not preempt the President. We will study all options,” Dureza said in Filipino during an interview on GMA-7.
Dureza said the government was surprised when the CPP-NPA-NDF did not immediately reciprocate Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire during his State of the Nation Address last week.
In the past, he added, the communists were always swift in responding to a Christmas and New Year’s ceasefire.
Dureza said the government would not respond to Sison’s harsh criticism of Duterte, because doing so would only make matters worse.
“He [Duterte] was really very presidential in all his statements. You know, his main concern is really how to bring about sustainable peace in the country. We will address this in the most strategic [way],” Dureza said.
Dureza, too, said peace talks would go on as scheduled, on Aug. 20.
“There is no difference here. It has not changed. August 20 is the resumption of the peace talks. Unless, of course, something happens along the way,” he said. “We are prepared to go to Oslo already for the official talks.”
After being called “thuggish” and a bully by Sison, Duterte said Sunday he remained friends with the communists because they are against those who oppress the people.
Speaking before members of the Presidential Security Group and their families on Sunday, Duterte said he offered to talk peace with every rebel group in the country so he could save lives.
“I am trying to save lives. I hit the ground running and offered peace to everybody,” Duterte said.
But the President said he drew the line with the Abu Sayyaf, saying there was no reason to negotiate with the bandits, saying there was “no redeeming factor” in talking with them.
His statement Monday contrasted with earlier remarks in which he said he understood the issues that drove the Abu Sayyaf to hold hostages for ransom.
Also on Monday, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, a fisherman’s group, urged Duterte to pursue peace talks with the communists in the name of national unity and interest in the midst of a territorial dispute with China.
“In these trying times, national unity through peace talks between the [government] and the revolutionary movement is crucial. No amount of diplomatic talks can resolve this long running sea row unless we as a nation will unite and collectively uphold our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Salvador France, Pamalakaya vice chairman.
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