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Bello: Peace talks with Reds still 'alive'

The peace panel at an informal meeting with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front headed by Jose Ma. Sison in Oslo, Norway in 2016. Jesus Dureza, Facebook, file

MANILA, Philippines — The scuttled peace talks between the government and communists are still “alive,” one of the state’s top negotiators said Thursday despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remarks saying that peace negotiations may not resume within his term.

“I don’t know basta the talks are alive and we are just waiting for the president to give us the instruction to go back to the peace table,” Government peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III, also Labor secretary, said in a press briefing at Malacañang.

“If you recall, when the president came in as our president, he made a very clear statement that his legacy to our country and our countrymen is a lasting peace for our country. So I don’t think that the president has abandoned that legacy,” Bello added.

Duterte—who won on a platform of peace and order—revived the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines that had collapsed during the Aquino administration.

He has also pledged support for a bill to create a new autonomous Bangsamoro territory with more powers than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao that, if successful, could unlock the stunted economic potentials of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao and elsewhere.

In July, Bello said both sides agreed to hold the fifth round of formal talks on “second or third week” of August while backchannel talks would be held somewhere in Asia “within the third or last week of July.”

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READ: Bello: Next round of talks with NDF may happen in August

But Duterte scrapped the peace talks last July after the communist leadership ordered leftist fighters to launch offensives against government troops to resist the chief executive’s imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

Duterte recently said he believes that holding negotiations with the communist rebels is “not good for the country” and just a useless expense. “I don't want to and maybe it would take some time to maybe another president to do it,” he added.

READ: Duterte says resumption of talks with Reds 'not good for the country'

But in the same news conference on Thursday, Bello said Duterte was only referring to the stalled fifth round of formal negotiations and not to the entire peace process when the president expressed pessimism over the prospect of talking peace again with communists.

“That did not mean that the talks were cancelled or terminated and we have been consistently saying that in order to terminate the talks, either of the parties have to serve the [other] party with a written notice of termination and the termination takes effect 30 days after receipt of that notice of termination,” Bello explained.

Last month, Duterte said he was willing to return to the negotiating table after the rebels freed a policeman they kidnapped in Davao Oriental last June.

But he stressed that as long as the communist rebels do not stop guerrilla attacks, the peace negotiations will remain suspended.

With the peace talks in virtual limbo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is just awaiting orders to re-arrest and haul back to jail the freed communist consultants to the peace process.

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