Pointless to forge peace with communists: Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte announcing that he has lifted the unilateral ceasefire with the New People's Army in Janiuay town in North Cotabato, southern Philippines on Feb 3, 2017.
President Rodrigo Duterte announcing that he has lifted the unilateral ceasefire with the New People's Army in Janiuay town in North Cotabato, southern Philippines on Feb 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Renewed conflict could slow President's signature anti-crime drive as military is spread thin

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared it "pointless" to forge peace with communist insurgents after the collapse of a six-month ceasefire, which is likely to slow his anti-crime drive as the military is spread thin fighting on several fronts.

"Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and get ready to fight," Mr Duterte told security forces yesterday. "I tried my best, but my best was not enough," he said.

This comes days after the New People's Army (NPA), the communist party's armed wing, said it was resuming its war with the government. It had accused Mr Duterte of reneging on his promise to free political prisoners, and the military of encroaching on its territories.

The ceasefire, declared last August, has been credited with curbing violence from 40 years of a rebellion that has left vast areas of the countryside mired in poverty and killed at least 35,000.

Lately, however, the military and the NPA have traded accusations of ceasefire violations. A clash last month resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and a rebel.

Mr Duterte had hoped to conclude a peace deal with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) so he could divert more military resources towards fighting crime, his signature programme.

Now he has conceded it is "pointless" for the ceasefire to continue. "It will not produce anything," he said.

"There will be no peace vis-a-vis the CPP... It's almost 50 years in the making... I guess peace with the communists cannot be realised during our generation," he said.

The CPP, which began in 1968, had at its peak at least 25,000 fighters in the NPA. But with the collapse of communism worldwide and the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, it is said to have about 4,000 members today.

Yesterday, General Eduardo Ano, the armed forces chief, said the military "will go after the NPA... and we will hit them hard".

The 125,000-strong armed forces is already fighting Muslim secessionists and militants in the war-torn southern Philippines.

On Thursday, Mr Duterte ordered the military to support his anti-narcotics war because he could no longer trust law enforcement agencies.

However, a member of the government peace panel, who declined to be named, said "high-level talks" were being worked out to salvage the peace talks and negotiate a more binding ceasefire.

A series of meetings and workshops is being held, as both sides prepare for a fourth round of talks in April, he told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Pointless to forge peace with communists: Duterte'. Print Edition | Subscribe