The Philippines has cancelled peace talks with communist rebels after guerillas attacked a convoy of presidential security guards, killing one and wounding six.
President Duterte was not at the scene at Arakan town in North Cotabato province on Mindanao when the clash between the guards and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels erupted early this morning (Wednesday, July 19).
Ten presidential guards were in two vehicles when they encountered a communist checkpoint and shots were exchanged.
Arakan police chief Argie Celeste said a militiaman who was not with the presidential guards was fatally shot when he tried to pass through the same highway checkpoint.
Operations are underway to pursue the rebels, who withdrew toward another village. One police agent was abducted by the rebels, police said.
The attack was reason enough for peace adviser Jesus Dureza to cancel “back channel” talks with exiled leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
In a statement, Mr Dureza said: “The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still not present.”
Maoist rebels have been waging a guerrilla war for nearly 50 years to overthrow the government — making it the longest such insurgency in Asia.
The conflict has cost more than 40,000 lives and stunted growth in poverty stricken but resource-rich rural regions.
The peace process has been fraught with breakdowns, with both sides abandoning unilateral ceasefires in February, blaming each other for launching attacks.
Yesterday, the president met his negotiating team and told them not to agree to a bilateral ceasefire until the NPA ceased attacks. He also called on CPP leadership to keep its fighters under control.
The clash at a checkpoint came a day after the president asked Congress to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year.
Government forces are continuing to battle Islamic State-affiliated militants who have occupied the island’s Marawi City for 58 days. Meanwhile, operations are continuing in the Sulu peninsular against Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
Military chief Eduardo Ano accused the communist rebels of exploiting the security crisis.
“That’s why you are seeing now an increase in the intensity of encounters nationwide,” he said, adding two marines had also been killed by rebels on Palawan.
As we reported yesterday, the NPA has announced that it will step up offensive operations against government troops in protest at the bid to extend martial law.