MANILA (Updated) -- President Rodrigo Duterte is not discounting the possibility of reviving the peace negotiations with communist rebels on condition that the latter would stop violence and extortion.
Speaking before his audience in Oriental Mindoro on Tuesday, April 3, Duterte expressed openness to possible resumption of talks and ceasefire with the communists as soon as their armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), ends unlawful acts such as extortion, arson attacks, and killing people.
"I'd like to address myself first to the NPAs. You know, we're not enemies. Even though I want to fight you, my heart says I could not kill my fellow Filipinos... Let's talk about peace and stop killing," Duterte said.
"We can talk. Stop revolutionary government. Do not burn properties... In the meantime, if you really want to really negotiate with us, you stop immediately. You and I will have a ceasefire," he added.
His remark came after suspected NPA members torched heavy equipment in far-flung villages in his home town Davao City during the observance of the Holy Week.
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The President apparently changed his mind even after repeatedly saying in his previous impromptu speeches that there would no longer be peace dialogue between the government and the communists.
His latest pronouncement was also inconsistent with the issuance of Proclamations 360 and 374 in 2017, which formally scrap the peace talks and brand the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA as terror groups.
Duterte said he could not stand fighting with the communist insurgents, as his only goal is to seek dialogue with them to achieve long-lasting peace in the country.
"The progress of the nation is really pushed down. It's about time, 50 years in the making. You want another 50 years of bloodshed? My conscience hates that," the President said.
"I want to pursue the peace talks with you. But along the way, there will be many obstructions and everything, but you must understand that it won't be easy for us," he added.
NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili, in a television interview on Monday, April 2, said the communist insurgents are open to the resumption of talks, as long as there are "no preconditions."
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Duterte hinted that the government would shoulder all the expenses, should the peace negotiations push through.
"I am ready to subsidize the peace process. I can pay for the hotels and everything you need," he said. "Frankly speaking, I want peace under my watch. I do not hold grudge against you. I understand you."
Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, one of the authors of the resolution that urged the administration to resume the peace talks, welcomed Duterte's statement, but advised the government and communists not to set preconditions for the negotiations to resume.
"It is important, though, that past mutual binding commitments and agreements be honored and complied with," he said.
He said the parties should start talking where they left off.
"They can also go for the simultaneous signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of Social and Economic Reforms and a joint ceasefire so that the concerns of both parties and our people for a just and lasting peace can already be effectively addressed," Zarate said. (With Keith A. Calayag/SunStar Philippines)