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Duterte warns of war if talks fail with Philippine rebels

Government and communist negotiators are set to resume peace talks on June 28 after decades of fighting

Duterte warns of war if talks fail with Philippine rebels

Communist rebels of the New People's Army stand to attention in December 2017. The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is a member of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

Jose Torres Jr. and Mark Saludes, Manila
Philippines

June 4, 2018

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned that a "violent war" could erupt if formal peace negotiations with communist rebels break down.

The president expressed hope that the talks, set to resume on June 28, would prosper as "we have suffered a lot, resources, lives and all."

Duterte said the communist insurgency, which has dragged on for almost 50 years, has prevented investors from coming to the country.

"We are trying to find out if we can succeed in the talks with the Communist Party," the president told reporters on June 3.

He said that if the latest attempt at peace fails, he would be left with "no other alternative" but to declare war.

Duterte reiterated his commitment to the peace process, even inviting exiled rebel leader Jose Maria Sison to return to the Philippines.

Sison has been in exile in the Netherlands for about three decades for fear of arrest if he attempts to return home.

Duterte said he has not received a clear answer from Sison, who now acts as a consultant to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) rebel group.

"If you come home, I will guarantee your safety and your security. If the talks fail, I would be glad to escort you here and see you leave Philippine territory," said Duterte.

Government and rebel negotiators last week reportedly came up with a "stand-down agreement" drafted during informal talks over the past five months.

Fidel Agcaoili, head of the rebel negotiating panel, said the agreement is necessary to implement an amnesty proclamation for rebels, a coordinated unilateral ceasefire and the signing of a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms.

The government peace panel and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process refused to comment on the reported agreement and the possibility of an amnesty proclamation.

The stand-down agreement is supposed to require the armed forces of both sides to stay on their grounds and not commit any offensive military operations even prior to the talks.

"Both panels are determined to press for the resumption of the talks, but there are tasks that we must finish," said Agcaoili.

Among the concerns earlier raised by rebel negotiators is the granting of travel permits to six members of the NDFP who are set to travel to Europe for the talks.

Philippine church leaders welcomed what they described as a "positive development” in the peace process that could bring an end to rising cases of human rights violations.

"Now we can see bright lights that could lead us to just and lasting peace," said Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, head of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform.

He appealed to both parties "to prevent any spoilers" who could ruin the gains of the talks and to "always engage in principled dialogues."

Protestant Bishop Reuel Marigza, convener of the Pilgrims for Peace group, said people are looking forward to the signing of socioeconomic agreements during the talks.

"Every effort should be expended to support the peace talks," he said.

The peace process broke down in November last year after Duterte ordered an end to the talks following rebel attacks on government installations.

Peace negotiations began in 1986 during the administration of former president Corazon Aquino. It was followed by nearly three decades of talks that ended in failure.

Peace negotiations resumed in Norway in 2016 after Duterte came to power. 

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