MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday threatened to withdraw a ceasefire order he gave three days ago after suspected communist rebels killed a government militiaman and wounded four others in an attack.
After learning about the New People's Army rebel attack, Duterte told army troops he called and asked a left-wing lawmaker to tell the guerrillas they have up to Friday to tell him if they wanted to have a truce, otherwise, both sides can return to fighting.
Duterte, who has made friendly overtures to the Maoist guerrillas, warned the rebels if one more soldier or militiaman is killed, "let's just fight."
"I was talking to the congressman and asked, 'What is this? Are we into this truce or are we not?'" Duterte told army troops during a visit to their camp in Quezon province southeast of Manila. "I told them give me an answer by tonight because if there will be none by tomorrow, I will remove the (truce) and we'll go back to fighting."
The tough-talking president said he demanded an explanation from the communists about the attack and asked them to punish the rebels behind the assault like what the military does to erring soldiers. "Otherwise, we didn't talk about anything, that's my deal," he said.
Duterte declared a unilateral cease-fire with the rebels effective Monday in a bid to foster the resumption of peace talks and end a decades-old Marxist insurgency that he said "is getting bloodier by the day." The guerrilla leaders immediately welcomed the move and said they were considering responding soon and would likely declare their own cease-fire.
The militiamen were withdrawn from a security mission following the president's truce declaration and were traveling back to their patrol base Wednesday when they came under rebel attack in southern Kapalong town in Davao del Norte province, military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
Despite the hostile rebel action, the military said it would enforce the truce.
"If you do not honor and you kill a single soldier or a Cafgu, who is also a soldier of the republic, I said let's forget this and let's just fight," Duterte said, referring to the military's militia unit.
Duterte's angry reaction reflects his openness to shift from friendly overtures he has so far made to the rebels, who have been waging one of Asia's longest communist insurgencies.
The decades-long communist insurgency has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since it broke out in the late 1960s. It also has stunted economic development, especially in the countryside, where the Maoist insurgents are active.
Under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, peace negotiations with the communists that were brokered by Norway stalled over the government's rejection of a rebel demand for the release of captured insurgents. But Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist, had given concessions to the rebels, naming left-wing activists to two Cabinet posts and moving to resume peace talks with them from Aug. 20 to 27 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.
While he said he would pursue talks with communist and Muslim rebels, Duterte told the army troops that Abu Sayyaf extremists would have to be destroyed.
The small but brutal group has been blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. Duterte earlier said he understood the poverty and neglect that drove the militants to take up arms and he appealed to them to end kidnappings.
But he called the militants outlaws who had no ideology.
"The Abu Sayyaf is not included, I will not talk with criminals," Duterte said. "We have to destroy them, we have no other choice."