President Rodrigo Duterte repeated late Monday he was open to a possible reconciliation talk with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
He made the statement even as Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Tuesday there will be no declaration of a holiday truce between the government and the communist rebels.
“The recommendation of the Defense Secretary still stands, [and that is] not to declare a truce,” Panelo told reporters.
Speaking during the activation of the 11th Infantry Division in Sulu, Duterte appealed to the terrorists to end the violence in the south.
“If they stop [their attacks], I’m willing to go there, wherever that is, we will talk,” Duterte said.
“I, as the commander-in-chief, cannot allow my soldiers to be killed and be ambushed, and this has been going on for the last so many years... The lives are wasted, the bullets are wasted, too when I could use the money to build houses.”
Duterte said he was also willing to meet Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari in the negotiating table and reach a possible agreement to achieve peace in Mindanao.
“We can talk anytime and let me know what are his plans,” Duterte said.
“The government will be willing to compromise or even reach an agreement that could give him the dignity and integrity of the Tausug, Yakan and all tribes here on this island.”
Duterte said the lack of education of the Moro people was hindering the establishment of peace in the region, and that it was one of the reasons why conflict was persisting in the south.
“What is really lacking is the education of the Moro. For unless and until the Moro is educated in the proper way, to live in a world that we live in, and to come to terms and the reality of our lives today, then maybe, maybe with the mercy of Allah, we can achieve peace,” Duterte said.
Asked if Duterte had changed his mind about declaring a unilateral ceasefire with the terrorist groups following his remarks, Panelo said no.
“No, no word from him,” Panelo said.
Two weeks ago, the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a holiday truce from Dec. 24 to 26, 2018 and Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, 2019.
But Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana said the government forces would not allow themselves to be fooled by the CPP’s declaration, stressing they would not suspend the military operations against the rebels.