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Senators urge Rody: Defer talks with Reds

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, yesterday said the NDF has in fact indicated it is not in control of some NPA units involved in attacks on government forces. Panfilo Lacson/Released, File

MANILA, Philippines - Senators are urging the Duterte administration to hold off peace negotiations with the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) after the latter’s armed wing – the New People’s Army (NPA) – attacked a police outpost in Iloilo province on Sunday.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order, yesterday said the NDF has in fact indicated it is not in control of some NPA units involved in attacks on government forces.

“The first thing to consider before resuming the peace talks with the NDF is an assurance and clear proof that the NPA is still under the CPP-NDF control and direction,” Lacson said, also referring to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“Evidently, as shown by recent events, they are not. Having said that, we ask this question – are we negotiating with the right party?”

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the government “should not trust the NDF because NPA has broken the trust by attacking government forces even if there is a truce.”

“It’s hard to trust them,” Ejercito said.

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The attack on a police station in Maasin town in Iloilo on Sunday came after Malacañang and the NDF – in separate statements last week – said they would observe a truce in Mindanao so that security forces could focus on ending the siege of Marawi City by Maute terrorists.

Police said some 50 NPA guerrillas on board a truck staged the raid and carted away firearms, communications equipment and a patrol vehicle.

The Duterte administration has revived peace talks with the NDF in a bid to end a 50-year-old communist insurgency that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of combatants and innocent civilians.

Calling the NPA “opportunistic” for attacking the police station, President Duterte challenged the rebel group to “walk the talk” and prove its sincerity and commitment to the peace process.

While the attack did not happen in Mindanao, officials said they were nonetheless disappointed by the development.

“We ask the NDF to call on their armed comrades on the ground to walk the talk and to show genuine sincerity on the confidence-building measure initiated by the government and their side,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing.

“It’s unfortunate that the NPA raid of a police station in Iloilo happened on the same day the government reciprocated the National Democratic Front’s declaration to refrain from undertaking offensive operations in Mindanao,” Abella said.

“Although the attack was not in Mindanao, the act was opportunistic in nature and disregards the nature of the NDF declaration,” he added.

Abella called on the NDF to show “genuine sincerity” in establishing confidence-building measures ahead of the formal peace talks.

No truce yet

Government peace panel chairman Silvestre Bello III said a nationwide ceasefire is actually still in the works.

“As far as I know, the NPA raid happened ahead,” Bello said, adding the government and the NDF peace panels are still defining the terms and parameters of a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

“That is what we are doing now. Coming up with definition of terms and parameters of a bilateral ceasefire agreement,” Bello said.

The rebel group, through spokesman Julio Montana, claimed responsibility for the attack Sunday morning. He said they were able to overrun the police station, seize firearms and communications equipment without firing a single shot.

Chief Supt. Cesar Hawthorne Binag, director of the Western Visayas Police, said members of the Iloilo Police Provincial Safety Company would take over the Maasin Police Station.

Binag also told The STAR he has recommended to PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa the relief of station chief Senior Supt. Harold Tuzon.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the impact of the attack “is not just on the peace negotiations” and that it “illustrates the tragedy of the insurgency.”

“It’s important to note that such attacks provide a negative impact in our mutual commitment with the NDF to provide the enabling environment conducive to the continuation of peace negotiations with them,” Dureza said in a statement.

“Hopefully the attack is just part of the birth pains of the agreement to stop offensive military actions, even if it covers only Mindanao as of now. It is an argument for a nationwide ceasefire,” he added.

The peace talks were put on hold following the issuance of a directive by the CPP for the NPA to intensify attacks against government forces implementing martial law in Mindanao.

“Since there is yet no mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement in place nationwide, the NPA attack in Maasin, Iloilo and elsewhere must be dealt with accordingly and decisively by the AFP and the PNP with the cooperation of civilian agencies and the affected communities,” he added.

Dureza stressed the AFP and the PNP should take appropriate action in response to the NPA attack.

Operations continue

As there is no formal ceasefire yet, the military will continue its operations against the NPA, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla also said.

“The heightened alert against the NPA has not been downgraded. Our operations will continue. We have not cancelled or stopped this. There’s no unilateral cessation of hostilities between our troops and theirs because no formal agreement has been made,” Padilla said in a chance interview.

“Once we have the agreements then let’s enforce it. But so far, there is none. The security operations will proceed,” he added.

He also dismissed as a worn-out excuse the rebels’ claim that they attacked the police station because the policemen manning it were involved in extortion, illegal drugs and gambling.

“They do this intentionally because their objective is to get more arms,” Padilla said. “And one of the reasons they did the attack in Maasin, we know, is because many of our troops went to help in Mindanao. So when the forces were spread thin, they knew that they could do this, they took advantage. That’s why we say it’s very opportunistic on their part,” he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said the military would not take hostile acts by NPA rebels sitting down.

“Notwithstanding the statement of Secretary Bello that the government will not undertake offensive operations against the NPA to set the ground for a bilateral ceasefire, the AFP will continue to fulfill its mandate and conduct support to law enforcement operations all over the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.

He said “recent events have shown that the upper echelons of the communist movement do not have actual control of NPA units on the ground, which continue to commit atrocities even while their comrades talk peace with the government.” – Alexis Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Michael Punongbayan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jennifer Rendon, Gilbert Bayoran, Janie Cameron

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