President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he has directed Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to talk peace with communist founder Jose Maria Sison.
The President made the announcement when he presided over the situation briefing on the effects of Typhoon Tisoy in the Bicol Region.
He, however, refused to elaborate on the impending dialogue between Sison and Bello.
“Ang ano ko ngayon (My stance is) I cannot stop. Hindi ko pwedeng sabihin, ayoko nang makipag-usap (I cannot say I no longer want to talk to them). That is not a statement of a leader, of a president,” Duterte said in a speech delivered at the Legazpi City Convention Center in Legazpi City, Albay.
“Now this is the first time I will reveal it. I’m sending Secretary Bello. Komunista naman talaga ito siya (He’s really a communist) so he should go there, talk to them, and… I cannot talk about it…but I’m sending him back to Sison and talk to him,” he added.
Duterte dissolved on Mar. 18, 2019 the national government’s negotiating peace panel led by Bello, following the stalled peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).
On Nov. 23, 2017, Duterte inked Proclamation 360, formally terminating the peace talks with the communist guerillas, following the string of attacks staged by the New People’s Army (NPA), armed component of the CPP, launched against the government forces.
The CPP-NPA has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
On Dec. 5, 2017, the Chief Executive signed Proclamation 374, classifying the CPP and NPA as terror organizations because of the crimes they supposedly committed “against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of the nations.”
Duterte, in his latest speech, said he cannot close the door on the possible resumption of talks with the communist movement, stressing that the nation is “longing for peace.”
“You should understand that the quest for [or] the longing for peace is always there, and not for the military and the police but for everybody. Kailangan (It is necessary that) the doors must be open always or there must be at least one channel, if everything closes, na pwede mong pakiusapan (that you can tap),” he said.
“Malaman lang ninyo iyang pagdating ng panahon (You will know at the right time) what will happen next. If he (Sison) agrees, ito ang sabi ko (I said this) is the last card. When I say my last card, my time is running out,” Duterte added.
The peace negotiations between the national government and the NDF have been intermittent since it began in 1986.
Duterte had a relatively warm relationship with the communist rebels during his first months in office, but he was enraged by NPA’s continued attacks against the government troops, despite the ongoing peace talks.
In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order 70, instructing the national task force tasked to end local communism to develop measures enabling local chief executives and directing local peace bodies to conduct local peace talks with the communist insurgents.
Creation of 20 new Army battalions ordered
Meanwhile, Duterte also acknowledged that apart from communism, terrorism is also plaguing the country.
He also reiterated his concerns that the Jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might infiltrate the entire Mindanao.
To combat terror acts, Duterte ordered Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to deploy 20 new battalions from the Philippine Army in the war-torn region.
“We have been hit with terrorism. Mas maano ito, mas matindi (It’s more intense). And I know it’s still the same, it is a crisis. Pero as far as we are concerned in the government, wala pa naman (it’s not yet totally here). I hope it would not come. Takot lang namin dito (Our fear), the only fear is the ISIS would move inner from the Sulu Islands. It might travel to Mindanao. Iyan ang problema (That’s a problem),” he said.
“We need men and as a matter of fact, I have ordered Lorenzana to move faster sa creation ng mga battalion sa Army. Ideally, I need about 35 but I would be happy in 20 in the meantime,” he added. (PNA)