Duterte releases 14 convicted NPA rebels to pursue peace

Duterte said he could not continue the war with fellow Filipinos and asserted that he is a president of peace.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Reuters

After lambasting the New People's Army (NPA), after their recent attacks against civilians and foot soldiers in the Southern and Northern Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte announced, while speaking to Filipino communities in Hong Kong, that he had ordered the release of 14 convicted NPA detainees to open fresh peace talks with the oldest insurgent group in Southeast Asia.

Though the Philippine Armed Forces and the NPA had firefight encounters recently, Duterte said he could not continue the war with fellow Filipinos as cannot be a wartime president and asserted that he is a president of peace. However, Duterte did not mention the names of the 14 left-leaning rebels.

The peace talks between the NPA and the Philippine peace panel earlier faced rough roads when the NPA-NDF peace panel asked the Philippine government to release their comrades from prison but the Duterte government rejected the NPA-NDF's request. The president also scrapped peace talks between the government and the NDF last February after the communists insisted on implementing their demand to free 400 rebels, whom they consider to be political prisoners.

Before running for president, Duterte ran on a platform of making peace with Maoist rebels. Upon winning the presidency, Duterte appointed left-leaning personalities to be part of his cabinet team. Among them are Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and National Anti-Poverty Commission chief Liza Maza. As a result, the rebels then cancelled the unilateral ceasefire and launched offensives against government forces.

Moreover, cabinet labour minister Sylvestro Bello, a left-leaning leader and Presidential Peace Adviser Jess Dureza insisted that peace negotiation should continue despite the disagreement between the NPA-NDP and the Duterte administration.

Dureza admitted that the recent attacks of NPA rebels on Philippine soldiers have been disturbing them and also admitted that the government is using back channeling negotiations to resume the peace process.

Bello insisted that despite the fresh attacks of NPA against the business sector and government forces, the Philippine government is still determined to push through with the peace with the NDF.

In March this year, a brand new commercial passenger bus plying the Southern Mindanao route was burnt by suspected communist rebels in Makilala town in North Cotabato, following which Bello appealed to his leftist comrades "to observe restraint."