Duterte shuts doors on peace talks with Reds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday slammed the doors shut on peace talks with communist rebels, saying the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) "does not respect" its own pledge to carry out a ceasefire.

“There are no more peace talks to talk about. I am not and will never be ready for any round of talks,” the President said in a taped address.

This decision came following reports of two Philippine Army soldiers allegedly being gunned down by members of the New People's Army (NPA) in Aurora Province last Tuesday. The slain soldiers, identified as Pfc. Ken Lester Sasapan and Pfc. Jackson Mallari, were reportedly guarding the distribution of aid to COVID-19 affected communities.

“It is a sad thing to know na 'yung mga sundalo ko pinagpapatay [that my soldiers are being killed], while even doing the most honorable task of accompanying the government workers delivering money and food,” Duterte said.

“The NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines have no respect either for their spoken words or in their deeds of killing soldiers who are on humanitarian missions,” he added.

On April 16, the CPP declared the extension of its nationwide ceasefire to April 30, citing the need to prioritize the fight against the pandemic. It has ordered its armed wing, the NPA, “to continue to desist and cease” from carrying out offensives against government forces, in order to shift priority to the anti-COVID-19 campaign.

The government's ceasefire declaration, meanwhile, lapsed last April 15. Duterte has not yet reciprocated CPP's extension, with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque citing incidents wherein the rebels supposedly breached their own ceasefire order.

In a previous address, President Duterte also announced the possibility of declaring a nationwide martial law should the alleged lawlessness of the guerrillas continue.

“I am warning everybody and putting notice to the armed forces and the police. I might declare martial law,” he said in an address aired last Friday.

READ: Duterte threatens to declare martial law if 'lawlessness' of NPA continues

In response to the possible move, CPP said in a statement that Duterte is taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to carry out the agenda of imposing martial law.

It added that the government is just using “pretend Covid-19 relief work as a pretext and justification for intensifying its anti-NPA operations.”

According to CPP, the Armed Forces of the Philippines even stepped up its counterinsurgency operations. “In fact, the AFP never went on ceasefire, even when Duterte ordered a suspension of offensive operations last March 19 to April 15,” it said.