Peace talks with Reds dim after mine killings

Hurdles to the peace negotiations slated to start between the government and the communist movement in Oslo, Norway on August 20 have become tougher yesterday after President Duterte issued a new ultimatum on against communist rebels' use of landmines and demanded inclusion of battlefield issues in the peace talks or else he'll call off the negotiations.

The rift between Duterte and leaders of the communist groups have grown after a continuous exchange of criticisms last week in the aftermath of Duterte's decision to lift a 5-day-old unilateral ceasefire with the rebels following an encounter in Davao del Norte which claimed a militiaman's life. Over the weekend, Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a media forum in Quezon City that the CPP-NDF might seek the postponement of the peace talks.

"If the release of the 22 NDF consultants will not be realized , the NDF will reconsider the postponement of the peace talks until the issue of political prisoners will be resolved," Jalandoni said through video chat from Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Earlier last week, the Supreme Court (SC) "released from detention" NDF consultants Randall Echanis and Vic Ladlad and former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo despite the fact that the individuals were not under detention.

The SC denied the Office of the Solicitor General's motion for intervention to grant the temporary release of the alleged top leaders of the CPP, who are being called as "peace consultants" who are the couple Benito and Wilma Austria-Tiamzon who were both nabbed in Cebu City in 2014.

Sources from the CPP told the Tribune that among the other personalities that should be released by the Duterte government are NDF consultants Adelberto Silva, who is supposedly the CPP's central committee chairman who was arrested in Cavite last 2015 and Concha Araneta who is the CPP's top leader in Western Visayas and who was arrested last year and is currently detained at the Iloilo Provincial Jail.

The communist group also emphasized that both Silva and Araneta are senior citizens and that there also some of their detained comrades who are suffering from diseases.

Duterte in a visit to Camp Panacan, Davao City early yesterday also warned the CPP-NDF's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA) to stop using landmines in their operations against state forces.

"Either you stop it or we stop talking," Duterte said during a news conference held at the wake of three Philippine Army infantry troops killed in two separate encounters in Compostela Valley on Friday against alleged members of the NPA.

"I would insist you include the landmines or else no talks at all, then we fight for another 45 years. I am now invoking the Geneva Convention. It is part of the international law, not only of the Philippines but around the world," Duterte addressed the insurgents.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' Eastern Mindanao Command said in a news release on Saturday that a landmine explosion killed three of the soldiers, condemning the Red's tactics "in the highest form the deliberate use of landmine by the NPAs which is in violation of the International Humanitarian Law."

NPAs resorting to landmines

The President was at the soldiers' wake from Saturday evening until the early hours of Sunday at the Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City.

Killed in action were Cpl Gilmar C. Mapa, Cpl Jimmy M. Bayta, Pfc Rolen Roy C. Sarmiento, and Cpl Ruel G. Mangaoang, less than a week after Duterte lifted on July 30 the government's unilateral ceasefire vis-A�-vis the communist rebels.

The President declared the truce during his first State of the Nation Address last July 25. It can be recalled that President Duterte lamented the heavy and "tragic" cost of armed rebellion.

"All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living. We express our willingness and readiness to go to the negotiating table, and yet we load our guns, fix our sights, pull the trigger. It is both ironic and tragic- and it is endless," he said in the SONA.

"While we extol the bravery and heroism of our soldiers, kayo, the rebels, do the same for your members and fighters. What I see instead are the widows and the orphans and I feel their pain and grieve, and no amount of cash assistance or the number of medals can compensate the loss of a human life. Sorrow cuts across every stratum of society. It cuts deeply and the pain lasts forever," the President added iin his first SONA.

Eastmincom said the three died "when pursuing troops of 25IB had a 45-minute skirmish against around 60 NPAs who were utilizing IED. Of the 12 casualties evacuated to Naval Station Felix Apolinario, Station Hospital, three soldiers were declared dead-on-arrival by the attending physicians while the nine others were confined for further medical intervention."

At least 10 soldiers were wounded in the Monkayo encounter and are recuperating at the Camp Panacan Station Hospital of the Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City.

Duterte's ultimatum for rebel forces to cease and desist on the use of landmines and improvised explosive devices is in line with international protocols, Philippine Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said.

"The call of the President is in line with international protocols on the use of landmines in warfare," he added.

Hao was referring to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL), which the New People's Army signed together with the Government of the Philippines.

It is clearly agreed upon in the CARHIHL that civilians shall be distinguished from combatants, shall not be the object of attacks, and shall be protected against the use of landmines.

"In case the rebels continue to use landmines, it will not stop the PA (from running) after them until the rebels agree to a peaceful resolution to this internal security problem," Hao pointed out.

Source: Daily Tribune