Maoist rebels break ceasefire. Filipino president says he is ready for a long war. PIME missionary Fr Peter Geremia hopes “this is only a setback” on the path to a peace agreement.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte scrapped negotiations with the New People's Army (NPA) aimed at ending decades of bloody conflict, raising fear among people in Mindanao that hostilities might resume. Some, like missionary Fr Peter Geremia, hope “this is just a setback that will be overcome soon."
The president announced his decision on Saturday (4 February), three days after the NPA released a statement saying that it would unilaterally end the ceasefire at 11.59pm, Friday 10 February, agreed in Oslo during peace talks.
Rebels accuse Duterte of failing to release all political prisoners by October. They also blame government forces of using the ceasefire to enter territory rebels claim as their own.
Duterte’s decision comes after eight Filipino soldiers and a rebel died in a clash last month.
The president, who released some rebel leaders to resume peace talks after he took office in June last year, reacted angrily to the statement by the Maoist rebels and said he was prepared for a long fight.
"I told the soldiers to prepare for a long war. I said (peace) will not come during our generation," he said late Saturday.
He later threatened to jail rebel negotiators should they return from peace talks overseas.
"I am not interested in talking to them (the rebel leaders). I will refuse to talk about it anymore," he told reporters.
"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."
This new escalation between the government and the armed group worries many Filipinos, afraid that the bloody conflict will continue.
Fr Peter Geremia, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Mindanao, reacted to the president’s statement and the possibility of renewed fighting.
"This news has come as a surprise and scares many young people,” the clergyman said.
“Unfortunately, peace negotiations have not solved the problems between the warring sides. 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,” he noted.
"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."