The Philippine government has asked that peace talks with communist insurgents be moved home from Europe with designated areas set up to help end one of the world’s most stubborn conflicts. The rebels have already dismissed the suggestion.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Jesus Dureza said the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), would be asked to ditch its “revolutionary tax” from companies and demands to be part of a coalition government.
The rebels fear that holding talks in the Philippines would expose them and their leaders who live in European exile to state surveillance and harassment.
The jungle rebellion, which began in 1969, is responsible for about 40,000 deaths and has left the region impoverished. The military estimates 3,900 rebels remain active.
Since the early stages of the rebellion, the island of Samar (pictured) has been considered to be NPA’s stronghold. While Samar has 2 per cent of the Philippine population and 5 per cent of its territory, 11 per cent of NPA-linked incidents have taken place on the densely forested island.
“The doors for the resumption of peace talks … are still open,” Dureza said, adding that Duterte still wished Norway to continue brokering the talks, but that “in the meantime, localised peace arrangements may be pursued”.
The CPP said the demand for talks in the archipelago was “driving another nail to completely shut down” negotiations.
“He knows fully well that the demand to hold talks in the Philippines is unacceptable and unworkable … unless he thinks the [communists] will be negotiating only to surrender the Filipino people’s aspirations and give up all its revolutionary principles,” the CPP told the media.
The CPP said it was “an outright lie” and a “desperate PR stunt” for Duterte’s administration to claim it was still open to talks and that the communists were responsible for them ending last month.
“By completely shutting the door to the negotiations, Duterte is laying down the conditions for imposing martial law or a general crackdown, use the terror proscription against the CPP and NPA against his critics and dissenters against his tyranny, and push charter change for pseudo-federalism to perpetuate himself in power.”
Duterte cancelled peace talks in 2017 after continued guerrilla attacks on the security forces and he signed an order labelling the communists a terrorist organisation, which the insurgents oppose. A temporary ceasefire was agreed in late June, with peace talks to resume a few days later in Norway, which has held peace talks for decades.
Duterte then angered the NPA by delaying the resumption of talks indefinitely to allow public consultation.
Last week, exiled rebel leader Jose Maria Sison, who founded the CPP and is based in the Netherlands, said further peace talks with Duterte were impossible and that groups would deal with his successor instead. Other communists said Sison directive would need to be approved by the rest of the leadership.
Samar. Picture credit: Wikimedia