By Roy Ramos
ZAMBODNGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) – The Philippines’ military has expressed support for President Rodrigo Duterte's warning that the resumption of peace negotiations with a communist insurgency would be canceled if rebels do not stop their alleged use of landmine attacks on soldiers.
Ezra Balagtey, public affairs chief of Eastern Mindanao Command based in southern Davao City, praised in a statement Sunday “the call of the President to the rebels to stop using landmines [as these] are inhuman and [indiscriminate] to hitting innocent bystanders”.
Duterte issued the ultimatum in a speech at a wake for four soldiers killed in two separate clashes with New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas in southern Compostela Valley province Friday.
Three of the fatalities were reportedly caused by a landmine explosion, which occurred amid preparations for renewed peace negotiations -- scheduled for Aug. 20 in Oslo, Norway -- that aim to bring an end to a decades-long guerilla war against the government.
“Either you stop it or we stop talking. Let’s fight [for] another 45 years,” Duterte was quoted by Rappler as saying in his speech.
He stressed that the use of landmines is prohibited under the Geneva Convention, which he accused the communist groups of invoking only for their own “advantage”, and insisted that it must be applied equally for both sides.
“I am now invoking the Geneva Conventions. It is part of the international law not only of the Philippines but around the world,” he added.
Balagtey called the rebels' alleged “continued” use of landmines and improvised explosive devices a violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law that it had signed with the government.
The fighting Friday broke out after Duterte withdrew a unilateral ceasefire with the communist groups -- declared during his first State of the Nation address on July 25 -- following an ambush that killed a government militiaman.
Since his landslide victory in the May 9 election, the president has been making overtures toward the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA.
On Friday, the Philippines Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the presidential office for the temporary release of two jailed communist leaders to enable them to participate in the talks.
Previous negotiations with the CPP and its political wing, the National Democratic Front, collapsed in 2004 after the communists withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of founder Jose Maria Sison and the NPA on the United States terrorist list.
In 2014, negotiations again failed because previous President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels' demand to release detained comrades -- accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
In his peace overtures, Duterte -- who served as a mayor for 22 years prior to taking office -- has said that he will release all political prisoners if party leaders return from exile and sit down for negotiations.
He has also offered the CPP posts in his new government to smooth the way.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia's longest running insurgencies in the country, which -- according to the military -- has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.