The peace initiatives involving the scheduled back-channel talks with the communist rebels were canceled on Wednesday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said.
The back-channel talks by the government peace panel were supposed to take place this month with its counterparts from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
“I am announcing the cancellation of back-channel talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF originally set within the next few days in Europe due to recent developments involving attacks done by the NPAs,” Dureza said in a statement.
“The situation on the ground, necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations, are still not present up to this time,” he added.
Earlier yesterday, Dureza revealed President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government peace negotiators not to resume peace talks with the communist rebels until the NPA stops attacking government forces.
At that time of the interview, Dureza said the President was still willing to engage the CPP-NPA-NDF in back-channel talks. Dureza and other government negotiators met with President Duterte on Tuesday night in Malacañang.
By around 5 p.m., however, Dureza released the statement that the back-channel talks would also be canceled.
The announcement came amid reports that early on Wednesday, suspected NPA rebels ambushed a convoy of Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel in Arakan, North Cotabato, killing a militiaman and wounding five PSG personnel.
A police asset was also abducted by the communist rebels, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).
The PSG personnel on board two vehicles were on their way to Davao City when stopped at a checkpoint and fired upon at 6:16 a.m. in Barangay Katipunan, Arakan. The men in fatigue had displayed Task Force Davao road signate and later turned out to be NPA guerillas, the PNA report said.
A senior Mindanao military official, Brig. Gen. Gilberto Gapay, affirmed that the communists were behind the attack on the Duterte bodyguards.
“This is part of their nationwide call for armed groups to oppose martial law by launching intensified offensives against government forces,” Gapay was quoted in a radio interview yesterday.
To recall, the fifth round of peace talks with the rebels was suspended on May 27 after the government panel withdrew from the negotiating table after the CPP ordered the NPA to intensify attacks against security forces.
Mr. Duterte has previously slammed the communist rebels for its attacks against government troops despite the peace talks. He said he won’t allow the resumption of peace talks unless the NPA stopped their extortion activities.
The government blamed the NPA — the 4,000-member armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines — and threatened to shelve peace negotiations unless the guerrillas stopped targeting soldiers in Mindanao.
The Communist Party, which is waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency, called on its armed wing on Tuesday to launch offensives in response to Duterte’s plan to put Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year.
The communist insurgency, which began in 1968 and which the military said was now mostly waged in Mindanao, has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.
The rebels have been in off-and-on peace talks with the government since Duterte, a self-described socialist, was elected last year.
Both sides declared unilateral ceasefires, but these did not last.
To try and end the two-month impasse, Duterte was planning to send negotiators shortly to an unspecified venue and informally discuss a possible bilateral ceasefire agreement, the government statement said.
But it warned that for formal peace talks to resume, the rebels must commit to “suspending operations against the military and the police and stopping all their extortion activities on the ground.”