‘No end to violence, no talks with Reds’
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2013 - 1:00am

MANILA, Philippines - After a string of armed attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA), Malacañang said yesterday it would resume peace talks with communist rebels only if they abandon their violent ways.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said negotiations with the rebels will continue only if they pursue peace without resorting to armed struggle and drop the preconditions they have imposed.

Lacierda cited untenable demands made by the National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella organization representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA, in talks with the government.

Government chief peace negotiator Alexander Padilla had lamented that the NDF virtually shot down the peace talks by demanding that the government abolish its peace and development efforts, including the conditional cash transfer, the PAMANA infrastructure upgrading in Samar and the military’s Oplan Bayanihan outreach program.

The NDF is also demanding the release of its jailed leaders, claiming they are consultants in the peace talks and covered by a guarantee of immunity against arrest.

Taking note of the statements made by NDF chairman Luis Jalandoni that they were still willing to resume peace talks, Lacierda said this would only happen if the conditions they set would be dropped.

He said nothing had happened with the regular track and a new approach must be agreed upon.

Lacierda quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles as saying that in their discussion with the Norwegian facilitator last month where Jalandoni was present, they mutually established that the NDF had “killed” the special track that they themselves had proposed.

CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison had proposed the special track to speed up the negotiations by imposing no preconditions that would skirt the protracted process of the regular track.

But the NDF made some proposals that backtracked from their original position made by Sison.

“We are not going back to the regular track which is going nowhere. We are always ready to resume talks under a new approach which will offer a better chance of bringing us to the peace our people desire and deserve,” Lacierda quoted Deles as saying.

Lacierda said some confidence building measures would be pursued but “there is no way forward on the regular track.”

On the other hand, the CPP said the government “has chosen the path of the purely military approach.”

The communists also denied setting preconditions to allow the peace talks to continue.

“Contrary to the media spin of the Aquino regime, the NDF has never imposed any precondition for the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the (government). The release of NDF consultants is an obligation of the government under previous agreements,” CPP said.

“The government’s refusal to fulfill its obligation to release the NDF consultants under the JASIG (safety and immunity guarantees) gives the people no assurance that it will fulfill the obligations it would enter into in the future,” the CPP added, referring to the immunity from arrest agreement of its supposed consultants in the peace talks.

Localized peace talks

The CPP also rejected the suggestion made by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to hold peace talks with the rebels at the local level.

“The pursuit of ‘localized peace talks’ further show that the Aquino regime has no intent of addressing the roots of the armed conflict which stem not from local problems but from the policies of the national government,” the CPP said.

Gazmin had called on military field commanders to hold localized negotiations with the rebels while the peace talks in the national level remained stalled.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II also supported the idea of pushing for peace talks with the rebels in the local level if the national effort fails to push through.

“We support it (localized peace talks). We are always for peace. There will be no development without peace. If laws will not prevail, how can we improve?” Roxas said.

Roxas said the Office of the Presidential Adviser of the Peace Process (OPAPP) headed by Deles would likely take the initiative of pursuing localized peace talks with the rebels.

The military, on the other hand, said they are supporting efforts of pursuing peace talks with the rebels but is also prepared for any attacks.

“While we support the peace-building activities of the government, our focused combat operations directed against the armed group in the countryside will continue to protect our people in the communities,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said.

The military said close to 400 people have died in atrocities and clashes against the NPA since 2011.

Military data showed a total of 200 people were killed in 2011, higher than the 164 recorded last year. There were 19 fatalities during the first quarter of this year.

Of the 383 fatalities, 158 were civilians while the rest were soldiers, policemen and militiamen.

The AFP suffered 147 fatalities while the Philippine National Police (PNP) and civilian armed auxiliary units recorded 26 and 52 deaths, respectively.

Burgos said the data highlight the need for the communist rebels to give up the armed struggle.

“The armed violence is destroying public infrastructure and vital economic facilities and even causing innocent lives. If the NPA rebels are pro-people, they must abandon armed violence,” Burgos said.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate committee on peace, unification and reconciliation, reiterated the need for the government to pursue the peace talks with the NPA.

But Guingona also said the NPA should be accountable for the attack on his mother, Gingoog City Mayor Ruth Guingona.

Guingona challenged the NPA leadership to turn over the gunmen involved in the ambush of his mother, guaranteeing that they will face a fair trial.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said “any assistance to support the peace process will definitely boost and accelerate the effort.”

Lacson said the demand of the communists to share power with the present administration is unacceptable since it can be seen as tantamount to extending authority to some groups. – Alexis Romero, Christina Mendez

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