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Duterte says he's still open to peace talks with Reds

This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army resting among bushes in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. Fuelled by one of the world's starkest rich-poor divides, a Maoist rebellion that began months before the first human landed on the moon plods on even though the country now boasts one of the world's fastest-growing economies. Noel Celis/AFP
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed readiness to resume peace negotiations with the communist rebels following the release of a policeman who was kidnapped by the guerillas three months ago.
Duterte said there is a need to have serious talks with the rebels, who have been waging an armed struggle against the government for 50 years.
“If you (communists) want to resume the talks, I am not averse to the idea, but let me sort out first the other branches of government,” the president said during his meeting with SPO2 George Rupinta, the policeman freed by the rebels, in Davao City last Saturday.
Rupinta was seized by the New People’s Army, the armed wing in the communist rebels, in Davao Oriental last June to probe his supposed involvement in “anti-people activities.” He was released in Compostela Valley last Friday.
Duterte said he could not immediately grant some demands of the rebels because they require the approval of other branches of government.
“I share power with Congress and the Supreme Court. So do not ask for something in a hurry and for those which are not really acceptable to the other branches of government. Mahirap ‘yan (It will be difficult),” Duterte said.
“Pag-usapan natin ‘yan ng masinsinan (Let’s talk about it seriously). Do not be in a hurry because we have been fighting for the last 50 years. And you just cannot ignore that period of violence and killing on both sides. And you have to consider also the position of the military who invested and the police, who invested lives there,” he added.
Duterte said he has to consider the sentiments and concerns of all sides as president.
“The fact alone that I cannot operate by myself would indicate that there is something more to be done… there is more than what meets the eye,” he said.
“There are things which has to be done. We have to clear it with the Speaker periodically and the Senate President. So that is how it operates here.”
Duterte scrapped the peace talks last July after the communist leadership ordered the NPA to launch offensives against government troops to resist Duterte’s imposition of martial law in Mindanao. The president declared martial law in the island after ISIS-inspired terrorists laid siege to Marawi City and held dozens of people hostage.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte would consult with members of the security cluster before returning to the negotiating table with the communists.  
“The president likewise has to confer with the other branches of government regarding matters [that] require their consent and approval,” Abella said in a statement Sunday.
“In spite of (the president’s) firm position to protect the nation from violence and terrorism, his fundamental goal is sustainable and lasting peace; which in this case begins with addressing the social injustice as the historical root of conflict,” he added.

Duterte denies ‘torpedoing’ alliance with the Left

Duterte took exception to claims that he “torpedoed” his alliance with the political left.
“It’s not right I torpedoed (the alliance). If I really torpedoed it, why would I go into a rigmarole of appointing you every time they are rejected or bypassed by Congress?” the president said.
He was referring to the decision of the Commission on Appointments to reject the appointment of former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, individuals aligned with the political left.
“I want to place them there because I have to hear both sides. The problem is, while we are talking, there’s full of threats about countryside positioning, deployment of New People’s Army soldiers, and that, and that,” Duterte said.
He reminded the rebels that harsh words would not bring the peace process forward.
“With regard to your message to me for the resumption of the talks, let me say this very carefully.  Sa inyo ‘yan eh. Sa inyo ‘yan (it’s up to you). Because when I became mayor, there were so many demands, and I conceded, and even appointing people from the left to join the government,” the president said.
“And every time that I break bread with you, I am so courteous…tapos, hirit kaagad. Hindi ito madadala ng hirit, ng init ng ulo (and then you immediately criticize. This cannot be solved by temper). It cannot be solved by harsh language,” he added.
“P***. Eh ano kung ayaw mo? Pasupladuhan ‘to eh. So, huwag kayong pumatol ng kasupladuhan ng - o ‘yung sa akin, kung palakihin ninyo, talagang walang mangyari  (B****. What if you don’t want it? It’s a contest of tough talk. Do not make a big deal of it. If you do, nothing will happen). Might as well forget about the talks.”
Duterte also lamented that the rebels have not apologized to him for attacking a convoy of the Presidential Security Group in Cotabato last July. A militiaman and five presidential guards were hurt during the ambush.
“Eh ako, kung matapakan ko ‘yung sapatos niyo, nagso-sorry ako eh. In-ambush ninyo ‘yung presidential convoy na kung saan ako mag-landing sana… hindi man lang kayo nag-sorry (Whenever I commit a mistake, I apologize to you. You ambushed the presidential convoy in an area where I was supposed to land but you did not say sorry),” the president said.
Despite his issues with the communists, Duterte thanked the rebels for releasing Rupinta, whom he said is suffering from a heart condition.
“I should share that I see to it that all prisoners of war have been treated well in accordance with the conventions of Geneva. And for that, I also would like to acknowledge their respect for the law,” the president said.
“It’s good that you released him. If he dies in your hands, my friends, we would have a problem, at least with the police,” he added. — Alexis Romero
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