After days of tit-for-tat statements following President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of martial law in the southern island of Mindanao, the highly-anticipated fifth round of peace talks to be held in the Netherlands between the Philippines and the leftist forces have been canceled by the government.
While the government blamed a Communist Party of the Philippines statement instructing New People's Army guerrillas to intensify tactical offensives against the government amid the implementation of martial law, Duterte government officials themselves had also threatened to pursue the NPA as part of the wide-ranging new military regime on the island.
The martial law order was introduced ostensibly due to the actions of the allegedly Islamic State group-affiliated Maute group in Marawi City, but the NPA has also cited indiscriminate attacks on Moro civilian communities, peasants and others, along with military operations against the communist guerrillas.
The suspension of formal talks marks the second time this year that Duterte has halted the ongoing dialogue.
Reading a prepared statement, presidential adviser Jesus Dureza said talks would resume only when there were "clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving a just and sustainable peace in the land through peace negotiations across this table shall prevail," pointing to recent CPP statements.
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines panel representing the CPP and NPA has called the “seemingly vague statement” an unreasonable ultimatum meant “to collapse the talks” and force the CPP to rescind its order to the NPA and implement a cease-fire in the absence of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, the reform agenda upon which the peace talks hinge.
The progressive forces' chief negotiator, Luis Jalandoni, added that government demands to halt guerrilla attacks were "ridiculous" and "unacceptable" while soldiers were attacking rural communities where the NPA is based.
"The military should stop its violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. These are unacceptable to us," he told reporters.
On Saturday, the panel representing the NDFP released a statement quoting ground reports from the NPA that detailed increased violence against rural communities and rebel forces in parts of Mindanao located far from Marawi City.
“Just this morning, we have received information from NPA units in South Mindanao, Far South Mindanao and parts of North Central Mindanao that search and destroy operations, strike operations, shellings and occupation of peasant communities are currently being carried out intensively by the AFP against the NPA and the peasant masses in the following provinces: 1) Compostela Valley, 2) Davao City, 3) Davao del Sur, 4) South Cotabato, 5) Saranggani, 6) Sultan Kudarat, 7) North Cotabato, and 8) Bukidnon,” it described.
“Hundreds of people are being rounded up. People are being detained or stopped from traveling for having no identification cards,” the report continued. “The military are threatening people against issuing statements that may be deemed anti-government. Military and bureaucrats have issued guidelines restricting people’s rights to assemble and prohibiting them from staging protest actions.”
The report's excerpt ends with the comment that “NPA units are left with little choice but to undertake more and more tactical offensives in order to defend the masses and the people’s army by stopping the reactionary state armed forces from carrying out their onslaught.”
Meanwhile, the NDFP has rejected continued government demands to implement a cease-fire prior to social reforms.