MANILA, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Prospects to end almost 50-year long leftist insurgency in the Philippines have dimmed following the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend the peace talks and ordered the resumption of military offensive against the Philippine communist insurgents who have been trying to overthrow the government since 1969.
The talks that kicked off in Oslo, Norway in August last year was the latest attempt of the government to end one of the world's last communist insurgencies. The armed conflict, which has left more than 40,000 insurgents, soldiers and civilians dead, has spanned 48 years.
Duterte, who presented himself as a "socialist" and the first "leftist" Philippine president, said when he assumed office in June that he was willing to "walk the extra mile" to achieve peace, a campaign promise that he wants to pursue.
But last Friday he ordered government troops to prepare to fight the New People's Army (NPA) guerrillas, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. "I am asking the soldiers: Go back to your camps, clean your riles and be ready to fight," Duterte said.
"I have lost many soldiers in just 48 hours, I think to continue with the ceasefire does not, or will not, produce anything," Duterte said in a speech, referring to the alleged atrocities committed by the rebels while separate unilateral ceasefire was in force.
Both sides separately declared truce to give way to the latest talks in August last year.
"Take your position and be alert," the tough-talking Duterte said. "My opinion is that there will no more be peace in this land vis-a-vis the communists. Let us continue the war. If you want to go to war for another 50 years, then let's go to war. Peace is not possible during our generation, I'm sorry," Duterte said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Tuesday that the government would wage "an all-out war" against the rebels, saying the group poses a huge threat to national security.
Military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said elite troops would be deployed to launch "surgical (and) focused" strikes on the rebel-held areas.
"We are confident that we are going to win this time," he told reporters, adding the 125,000-strong armed forces is better equipped now to fight the estimated 3,700 New People's Army guerrillas.
Over the weekend, Duterte ordered the arrests of 19 top rebels leaders the government freed to participate in the fresh talks that kicked off in Oslo, Norway in August.
Duterte has labeled the communist rebels as a "terrorist group," saying the clandestine armed group has resorted to banditry, extortion and other criminal activities. "They burn equipment of companies that refused to pay revolutionary taxes. They have direct havoc in the economy," he said.
The communist party condemned Duterte's decision. "Duterte has gone berserk and upturned the entire peace process. He has wasted the achievements attained in peace talks over the past few months," the party said in a statement.
The Duterte administration revived the talks with communist rebels in August after talks collapsed in 2011. Norway has agreed to broker the talks again this time. Since August, both sides have conducted three rounds of talks.
To win the rebels' trust, Duterte appointed former top leftist cadres to the cabinet and released top rebel leaders from jail to participate in the Oslo talks.
At their third meeting in Rome, Italy last month both sides agreed to meet again on Feb. 22 in The Netherlands to further discuss a joint ceasefire deal while the talks continue. The fourth round of peace talks was scheduled to convene again in Oslo, Norway on April 2.
The government has been trying to forge a lasting peace with the communist rebels since 1986 but the on-and-off talks between the two sides have failed to make any headway.
Negotiations have spanned 30 years and five presidencies. This is the sixth panel to conduct the negotiations, and over 40 rounds were completed since 1992, according to government data.
More than 10 agreements and joint statement signed by the parties including the CARHRIH or the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, a landmark agreement signed by both parties in 1998 which orders the government to review the cases of all political prisoners for their immediate release.
Talks are usually interrupted due to contentious and prejudicial issues like sovereignty, abduction of military or police personnel, forward deployment of armed troops in NPA guerrilla zones and bases, armed skirmishes and strike operations resulting in the deaths of soldiers and rebels on the ground and other alleged violations of truce agreements.
In 1999, the rebels pulled out of the talks after the government ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. In 2004, negotiations were again suspended after the U.S. renews its terrorist list which included the CPP, its founding leader Jose Maria Sison, and its armed wing, the NPA.
To date, the talks hit snag over the failure of the government to free around 400 "political prisoners."
At the opening of the last round of talks in Rome last month, Fidel Agcaoili, the chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, clearly stated that the release of prisoners "should not be seen as a mere confidence-building measure or a gift to the NDFP."
NDFP is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines which represents the rebels in peace negotiations to end the 48-year-old insurgency waged by the NPA rebels.
"It is an obligation of the (government). Neither should the political prisoners be treated as trump cards to extract concessions from the NDFP. Such conduct is bound to further erode mutual trust and confidence," Agcaoili said.
However, Duterte has insisted that he could not order the release of the prisoners who are facing criminal charges such as murder. Freeing these prisoners is tantamount to government surrender, he said.
Indeed, decades-old obstacles continue to hound the Philippines's quest for a lasting peace, rendering useless the efforts to carry out peace negotiations as a means to resolve the roots of the ongoing civil war.
"The root causes of the rebellion persist to this day," retired Army Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus told Xinhua in an interview.
Corpus was an officer in the Philippine Army and instructor at the Philippines Military Academy who defected to the NPA in 1970 after raiding the academy's armory and absconding with a large number of assorted infantry weapons, which he then used to train the rebels.
"The wide gap between the rich and the poor where the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer (continue to exist), and the economic elite are also the ones who control political power in government and they use this political power to preserve their vested interests," Corpus said.
Corpus said deep distrust between the military and the rebels and myopia have also plagued efforts of the past." There's also the element of distrust. They have been at war with each other for so many decades so it's really hard to find a final solution to the issue," he said.
While talks are under way, the CPP last December urged its members and cadres "to unite and strengthen the party" in a bid to "lead the national democratic revolution to greater heights."
"The party is poised to lead the national democratic revolution to greater heights over the next few years and onwards to victory," said the CPP said in its official publication called Ang Bayan.
But Corpus stressed the need to continue the peace negotiations. "I think that we now have the best opportunity (to talk peace) because we have a receptive president who is willing to do it, who is sincere in trying to do it, and a president who understands the problem. So, I think that both sides should take advantage of this rare situation."
The communist rebellion began in 1969 and reached its peak in 1987 when it boasted 26,000 armed guerrillas. However, the movement has since dwindled due to in-fighting within the Marxist movement and the arrests of many of its top leaders in the late 1980s.