REDS IN A TIZZY | The NDF: From foe to Digong's friend, now back to foe
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MANILA - Over the weekend, an angry President Rodrigo Duterte rescinded the government's unilateral cease-fire with the communist rebels represented by the National Democratic Front (NDF), citing as the last straw last week's killing in Bukidnon of unarmed soldiers by the rebels.
In one fell swoop, Duterte turned the rebels' status full circle: from foe prior to his presidency, to friends earnestly restarting the moribund peace negotiations, and, now, back again to foe. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he called them "terrorists" and on Monday, plain "spoiled brats."
Duterte's rapprochement was crisply delivered in his 2016 State of the Nation Address: "If we cannot, as yet, love one another, then in God's name, let us not hate each other too much, so it was said. [applause] I say the same to you today."
In return, Jose Maria Sison, the NDF Chief Political Consultant who used to be Duterte's former professor at the Lyceum of the Philippines, said then: "President Duterte and I remain good friends." He added that the two of them have plenty of mutual friends who help "maintain" their friendship.
The government's peace panel chief Jesus Dureza echoed the sentiment, describing the June 2016 exploratory talks as a reunion of "old friends".
However, in the course of the latest round of peace negotiations, – in Rome – the communists cited what they called Duterte's unfulfilled promise to release close to 400 political prisoners, as well as alleged cease-fire violations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
On February 1, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, announced they were lifting their own unilateral cease-fire by February 10. They, however, expressed a wish to continue the peace talks.
Duterte responded in kind, especially when communist rebels killed three soldiers in Bukidnon and "paralyzed" private heavy equipment the same day the NPA disclosed it was terminating its cease-fire.
He announced Friday (Feb. 3) the lifting of the government's own cease-fire declaration effective immediately. The next day he said he was scuttling the peace talks, even as another round of negotiations is due in the third week of February. And on Sunday night, shortly after meeting the families of the slain soldiers, he ordered the rearrest of the NDF consultants who had been released earlier so they can join the talks.
Duterte said he now considers the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-NDF (CPP-NPA-NDF) as a terrorist group.
• DUTERTE SCRAPS PEACE TALKS WITH NDF; ASKS GOVT DELEGATION TO RETURN HOME
• DUTERTE ORDERS ARREST OF ALL NDF CONSULTANTS
But the NDF peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili countered that the 17 consultants "are all protected form rearrest in accordance with the JASIG, or the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, which grants negotiators, their consultants, staff and security personnel protection from arrest and prosecution for the duration of the talks.
See: CONSULTANTS IN PH PROTECTED FROM REARREST - NDFP
Duterte, however, offered an olive branch to the communist rebels in the mountains who want to surrender: "I asked them [NPA] to come down from the hills and surrender. I will provide them protection and find money and provide them land under the government's agrarian reform program," Duterte said.
But what's ahead down the rocky road to peace with the Reds?
"Guerra na lang! Peace may not be possible within our generation," Duterte said in Malacañang.
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