MANILA, Philippines—Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Sunday that the military is ready to respond with airstrikes and new offensives if communist rebels launch attacks after both sides lifted separate cease-fires and he announced he was scrapping peace talks with the guerrillas.
Duterte, speaking at a news conference, called the rebels “terrorists,” as months of steady progress in talks brokered by Norway rapidly turned hostile after New People’s Army rebels killed six soldiers and kidnapped two others in fresh violence that enraged the president.
“It seems to me that these terrorists want another 50 years of war, of killing of Filipinos,” Duterte told reporters after attending the wake of three of the slain soldiers in southern Cagayan de Oro city.
“I don’t want a bloody thing, but if they choose to do it, fine,” the tough-talking president said. “With my lifting of the cease-fire, they can begin their attacks and we are prepared and I will use the assets. We have so many planes now, we have jets, I will drop all (the bombs).”
Duterte lifted the government’s 6-month-old cease-fire with the rebels Friday and ordered troops to prepare for new fighting after the guerrillas abandoned their own truce two days earlier and killed six soldiers in fresh violence. He angrily said some of the slain soldiers were killed like pigs and raked with gunfire.
He said Saturday that he was scrapping the talks with the rebels and would order government negotiators not to participate in negotiations for a joint cease-fire accord scheduled this month in Norway, adding that “peace with the communists might not come in this generation.”
The rebels have yet to react to Duterte’s moves.
Despite his tough talk, Duterte asked thousands of guerrillas to abandon the nearly half a century of bloody rebellion in the countryside with an offer of land reform and housing.
“I’m offering you peace,” he said. “You should just come down and I will look for money to place you in settlements and I will proceed with the land reform.”
Duterte said that several rebel leaders who were temporarily freed to join the peace talks in Europe should immediately return to the Philippines and go back to prison, warning that he would cancel their passports and order them to be arrested. The rebel leaders, he said, could also apply for asylum in Europe and opt to die far from their homeland.
Despite his tough stance, Duterte said Saturday that he may reconsider his decision if there was a compelling reason, but he did not elaborate. His adviser on the peace talks, Jesus Dureza, suggested Sunday that the president’s decision may still change.
“At the moment, he has clearly spoken on the directions we all in government should take,” Dureza said in a statement. “As I always say, the road to just and lasting peace is not easy to traverse. There are humps and bumps, and curves and detours along the way. What is important is that we all stay the course.”
The setback in the talks is the latest reality check for Duterte, whose crackdown on illegal drugs, which has killed thousands of drug suspects since he took office in June, has also hit a dilemma.
Duterte prohibited the 170,000-strong national police and the National Bureau of Investigation, another key law enforcement agency, from enforcing his campaign amid an extortion scandal that was sparked by the killing of a South Korean businessman by police officers involved in the anti-drug fight.
Duterte has said he will enlist the military to support the crackdown, now in the hands of a small anti-narcotics agency. That would put more pressure on government forces, who are carrying out an offensive against Muslim extremist groups in three battlefronts in the south and now have to prepare for a possible resumption of fighting with the communist rebels.