MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday his government would pursue peace talks with communist guerrillas despite an initial setback when he withdrew a ceasefire order after the rebels killed a militiaman in an attack.
Duterte also announced he would release a top rebel couple, Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, from detention in another move to bolster the resumption of peace negotiations scheduled for Aug. 20-27 in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.
"It's always a rocky road. There is no negotiation that comes easy to us, especially given the turmoil of our country," Duterte said in a speech before swearing in new officials at the presidential palace.
"We are hoping that we could just talk, maybe we did not understand each other. And so, the best way is really is to talk again and find out whether it is reachable or beyond our reach," he said.
Duterte declared a ceasefire on July 25 but withdrew it five days later after the rebels killed a militiaman in a landmine attack in southern Davao del Norte province and failed to declare their own truce by Saturday.
The president held a Cabinet meeting Monday to discuss how his government would pursue talks with the communist insurgents and two groups of Muslim rebels in the country's south, while excluding the brutal Abu Sayyaf extremist group.
The Maoist guerrillas said in a statement on Sunday that they still fully back the resumption of long-stalled talks and were willing to declare a unilateral cease-fire simultaneously with the government when the talks resume.
Duterte withdrew his truce order before the guerrillas could announce their own ceasefire on Saturday, the rebels said, adding it was "quite capricious" for the president "to have imposed such ultimatums of a few hours or several days for the Communist Party of the Philippines to act in accordance with his whims."
"It is advisable for (Duterte) to exercise a little more prudence and display more measured temperament ... in order to avoid such impulsive acts as imposing ultimatums by the hour on a conflict that has spanned nearly fifty years," the rebels said.
Following the lifting of the government ceasefire, army troops and police killed a New People's Army rebel in a clash Monday with up 20 guerrillas who were reportedly extorting money from villagers in Malimono town in southeastern Surigao del Norte province, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
Duterte suggested Monday that he was open to declaring a new government ceasefire with communist insurgents.
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 talks stalled over the government's refusal to heed a rebel demand for the release of some captured guerrillas. Duterte, however, has agreed to the release of detained rebels, who would be involved in peace talks, and designated two allies of the guerrillas to Cabinet posts in concessions aimed at fostering the talks.