Gov’t still open to talks with Reds

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    DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the Duterte administration remains open to resuming peace negotiations with the communist movement amid government efforts to expose ties of some lawmakers and militant groups to the communists.

    “The government is ready, the President is ready but what we want from them is a little bit of sincerity,” Lorenzana said, noting the communists have used peace negotiations to advance their armed struggle.

    The government has been holding on-and-off peace talks with the communists since the middle 80s.

    In November 2017, President Duterte terminated the talks with the communists but efforts to revive the negotiations continued. In March last year, the President said he was permanently ending peace negotiations.

    Lorenzana said the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, must stop their atrocities, including attacks on government and civilian targets and their extortion activities, so peace talks can again resume.

    “Stop the attacks on soldiers and civilians, and policemen. Stop sabotaging the infrastructure of the government and then come down and let us talk,” he said.

    “The government is in favor of that (resuming peace talks) but for as long as they are waging this war against the government, I myself will advise the President not to resume the peace talks,” he also said.

    Lorenzana’s statement came after Duterte said the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives and militant organizations are fronts of the CPP-NPA.

    Lorenzana said he supports Duterte’s pronouncement that the government is not red-tagging the Makabayan bloc but is identifying them as members of a “grand conspiracy” to topple the government.

    “I agree with the President’s statement the other night that we have known all along, since the beginning, that these organizations are fronting for the CPP-NPA and what next?” asked Lorenzana.

    “We are still thinking of what to do because they are members of Congress and they have the legal stature to be there in Congress. We will be on exposing their connection with the CPP-NPA,” said Lorenzana.

    Lorenzana recalled instances wherein Makabayan members organized a group of defense lawyers to fight for the release of NPA rebels arrested by government.

    “It’s clear they have been been working for the CPP-NPA. They keep saying that they are not but their actions belie their claim,” he said.

    During rallies, Lorenzana noted, CPP-NPA flags can be seen with the flags of the organization of the Makabayan lawmakers.

    “They (Makabayan block) said prove it… What proof do we need? They are always together.

    Former rebels who are with us are telling us their story, their ties with the CPP-NPA, how they have contacts with these Makabayan leaders,” Lorenzana said.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said while the government should not give up on peace efforts with insurgents, it would be better to pursue localized talks with them.

    “Giving up on peace should not be an option. But given the failures of past administrations who engaged in centralized peace negotiations, I fully support the present efforts of localizing it,” he said.

    He noted the situation of rebels varies in different areas, and the local government units (LGUs) are thus in a better position to determine and address their needs.

    What is needed from the national government are clear guidelines and parameters for the talks, along with proper assistance and supervision, he added.

    “For one, not all LGUs have the same level of insurgency problems in their communities. That makes it more practical and efficient to pursue it at the local level with the national government just providing the guidance and support,” Lacson said.

    Lorenzana told soldiers to stop having their pictures taken with the remains of slain rebels amid allegations from Rep. Eufemia Cullamat and other Makabayan bloc members that the military used slain NPA member Jevilyn Cullamat as a “war trophy.”

    He said Rep Cullamat has a point. That’s why we are coming up with directives again to the GHQ (general headquarters of the AFP), to the people, to the troops not to do this again,” he said.

    The military released a picture showing 11 soldiers behind the remains of the 22-year-old Jevilyn, Rep. Cullamat’s daughter, and firearms recovered after a clash with NPA rebels in Surigao del Norte last Saturday.

    Rep. Cullamat and members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives said the soldiers desecrated the young Cullamat’s remains.

    “That was wrong. I don’t approve of that action… Maybe, they could pose behind firearms or any other equipment, but not bodies of fallen fighters,” said Lorenzana.

    “It was wrong to do that and I understand the feeling of Congresswoman Cullamat,” he also said.

    But Lorenzana said soldiers did not desecrate the remains of Cullamat. “Our soldiers have always respected fallen fighters, NPA, Abu Sayyaf, “ said Lorenzana.

    Lorenzana said the military has been taking pictures of slain rebels since the 70s. “That has always been the practice of the soldiers.”

    “This picture is for our (military) consumption only and for some reason the picture of Jevilyn Cullamat found itself with the media and that’s what (critics) saw,” he added.