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Duterte declares peace talks dead in water

MANILA (SE): The much vaunted peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party are now officially dead in the water.

A signature policy of the president, Rodrigo Duterte, peace talks began with much enthusiasm in Oslo, Norway, last August, but soured significantly before a second round that was held in the same city and finally went nowhere at a meeting in Rome at the end of January.

Like the almost 8,000 victims of his war on the poor, which he claims is a fight against the drug trade, the president’s declaration adds the peace process to the list of things he has officially had killed off.

Duterte called off the talks after a clash between troops from both sides of the fence left eight soldiers and one Democratic Front member dead, raising fear among people in Mindanao that hostilities may again escalate to previous levels.

Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong expressed disappointment at seeing one more thing dashed that had inspired hope in the souls of those who are really looking forward to having an opportunity of returning home to a viable economy that would allow them a decent living.

“We were looking forward to positive outcomes, especially in the socio-economic reforms that would address the root causes of displacement of our people with millions forced to take up jobs abroad,” Dolores Balladares, from the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said.

“President Duterte should not let militarists and those against basic reforms hijack advances in recent negotiations,” the longtime community leader continued.

In a plea to the president of the Pearl of the Orient Sea, she added, “Don’t quash hopes for reforms that can lead to ending the forced migration of our people.”

However, her pleas seem destined to fall on deaf ears, as the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party declared that it is ready to face the government declaration of an all-out war after peace negotiations aimed at ending almost five decades of insurgency broke down at the end of January.

A statement released by the Front on February 9 said it cannot be a party to an unjust, unreasonable and improper move.

Father Peter Geremia, from Kidapawan in Cotabato, commented that he hopes this is just a setback that will be overcome soon.

The president announced his decision on February 4, three days after the Front released a statement saying that it would unilaterally end the ceasefire agreed on at Oslo at 11.59pm on February 10.

Duterte is being accused of failing to release political prisoners and allowing his troops to enter territory claimed by the Front.

“I told the soldiers to prepare for a long war. I said (peace) will not come during our generation,” AsiaNews quoted Duterte as saying in calling the talks off.

He later threatened to jail Democratic Front negotiators when they returned from the peace talks in Rome.

“I am not interested in talking to them. I will refuse to talk about it anymore,” the president told the media.

“We have been fighting for 50 years. If you want to extend it for another 50 years, so be it. We will be happy to accommodate you,” the stubborn president said.

Father Geremia reacted to the president’s statement and the possibility of renewed fighting, saying, “This news has come as a surprise and scares many young people. Unfortunately, peace negotiations have not solved the problems between the warring sides.”

The missionary priest added, “We hope that this is only a setback on the path to a peace agreement. In some areas, incidents have already taken place and civilians are a bit worried.”

Balladares added her concern for the safety of people, saying, “These developments are deeply disturbing, as they will surely lead to an escalation of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and human rights violations that members of the Armed Forces of The Philippines and the Philippine National Police are already notorious for.”

Father Geremia concluded, “The president has made many statements which he later retracted. It would not surprise me if this was one of those. We hope this is just a setback that will soon be overcome.”

But Balladares is upset that the money generated from the remittances of migrant workers is being used to perpetuate a system that leads to the export of even more of them.

She believes that the peace talks must continue, saying that if Duterte is really for the people then peace in Mindanao has to remain a top priority.

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