The government’s chief negotiator to talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines called the reaction of communist rebels to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao “an insult” to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “candor and genuineness” in seeking a peaceful end to their close to 50-year old insurgency.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said he was “deeply disturbed” at what he called the Communist Party of the Philippines’ “false reading” of Duterte’s intention for placing Mindanao under martial law, which came in the wake of fighting between government forces and gunmen of the Maute group in Marawi City.
Responding to martial law in the south, the CPP ordered the New People’s Army to “plan and carry out more tactical offensives across Mindanao and the entire archipelago,” saying “in the face of the Duterte regime’s martial law declaration in Mindanao, the necessity of waging revolutionary armed struggle becomes ever clearer.”
“With martial law in Mindanao, Duterte has imposed himself as a military ruler ready to ram through the bureaucracy and trample on civilian processes,” the CPP said, adding that he might be “emboldened to impose martial law on the entire country,” a possibility Duterte did broach Wednesday.
In an interview with independent media outfit Kodao Productions, CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, who is senior political consultant of the NDFP, said “martial law shall negatively affect the peace negotiations all the more if it is proclaimed throughout the Philippines after its apparent trial balloon in Mindanao” and if the government uses it “to try to scare (the NDFP) and force it to an interim joint ceasefire agreement ahead of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms.”
Bello’s NDFP counterpart, Fidel Agcaoili also said “the declaration of martial law in Mindanao is bound to have a negative effect in the peace talks when military aggression against communities turns more vicious and brutal like during Marcos’ time.”
Duterte earlier said martial law under him would be no different from that under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, which was marked by widespread human rights abuses and plunder.
Agcaoili also said they would seek substantial discussions on violations of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
But Bello said “the circumstances that precipitated, and the condition that warranted such declaration were matters of public knowledge. There was a need to restore law and order, protect the lives of the citizens and preserve private and state properties.”
The exchange happened just before the start this weekend of the fifth round of formal talks between the government and NDFP.
“The President, in no uncertain terms, categorically declared he was not after the New People’s Army. He, in fact, reiterated his keenness on pursuing peace,” he added.
He called the CPP’s order for the NPA to intensify attacks “totally misplaced borne out of a grossly distorted appreciation of the President’s intention.”
Bello urged the CPP to “correct its error and recall its senseless order” or risk being “construed as abetting the criminal and terror acts of the Maute group and a gang of Moro bandits.”
“We reaffirm our commitment and remain confident in winning our quest for lasting peace,” he added.