Gov't, communist rebels blame each other for failure of peace talks

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — Communist rebels on Thursday blamed President Rodrigo Duterte for yet another impasse on the peace talks. 

"President Duterte bears full responsibility for the failure of the talks on social and economic reforms because of his sudden turn-around and heightened hostility to the revolutionary forces and the people," the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said in a statement.

The NDFP represents rebels in talks to end the Communist Party of the Philippines' 48-year-old armed insurgency, the longest-running in Asia.

The government on Wednesday announced it is cancelling all planned peace talks with the rebels at Duterte's order.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza cited as reasons for cancelling talks the rash of violent incidents by the New People's Army – armed wing of the CPP – and the rebels' lack of willingness to negotiate.

"President Duterte has taken unprecedented steps and has walked the so-called extra mile to bring peace. However, the Communist Party and its armed elements have not shown reciprocity," Dureza said in a statement.

Read more: Gov't cancels all planned peace talks with communist rebels

The NDFP said it regrets the President's decision, which came at a time "when unprecedented advances have already been achieved in forging agreements on urgently needed socio-economic reforms to alleviate mass poverty and resolve the roots of the armed conflict."

Prior to the suspension of talks, a series of bilateral technical meetings resulted in draft documents on agrarian reform and rural development, and on national industrialization and economic development, among others, seen to benefit millions of Filipinos, the NDFP said.

For instance, "agrarian reform beneficiaries who have not yet been able to occupy the land awarded to them will be installed immediately, including those in contested lands and agricultural estates," the NDFP added.

The Duterte government is the sixth administration to talk with the NDFP in a bid to end the communist movement's armed struggle.

Duterte, a self-described left-leaning leader, brought renewed hope to a possible peace deal as he has reached out to the rebels even before assuming presidency. Formal peace talks began in August 2016, but these have since been suspended thrice.

Duterte first declared the termination of talks on February 4, 2017, saying he considered the NPA as terrorists because they "were killing his soldiers" and violated their own unilateral ceasefire.

The peace talks resumed in April 2017, only to break down again in May.

The fifth round of peace talks were supposed to resume in August 2017, but Duterte ordered a stop to negotiations. The President said the government will no longer talk with communist rebels because of their continuing offensives.

Duterte on November 18 said he is determined to consider the communist rebels as terrorists and criminals, after the death of a four-month-old baby and two other civilians in a November 9 ambush in Bukidnon.

The CPP took full responsibility for the attack and said it "will take all measures possible to account for the resulting difficulties."

Authorities on Wednesday announced the arrest of two NPA leaders in Pagadian City as part of the government's clamp down on communist rebels.

The Philippine National Police said any rebels apprehended would face stiffer penalties if the communists are soon recognized as terrorists.