AN OFFICIAL declaration by President Rodrigo R. Duterte of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed groups, collectively known as the New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorists would seal the end of negotiations, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, who also chairs the government panel for peace talks with the CPP-NPA and its umbrella organization, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“Kapag nangyari ’yon (If that happens), end of everything na ’yan,” said Mr. Bello in an interview at the House of Representatives yesterday, Nov. 30. “Alam mo naman (You know for a fact), we cannot negotiate with terrorists.”

At the same time, Mr. Bello stressed that there is no official document yet. “He is just considering,” Mr. Bello said.

As for the President’s decision suspending the peace dialogues, Mr. Bello said that the Norwegian government, which has been serving as facilitator and mediator, “is aware of it because of the Presidential Proclamation No. 360.”

“It is very clear that the President has terminated the talks,” Mr. Bello said, adding that the government is also considering whether it is necessary to “furnish the NDF-CPP-NPA panel a copy of the Presidential proclamation just to comply with the requirement of a notice of 30 days.”

“We have to discuss it with Secretary (Jesus G.) Dureza (the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process),” Mr. Bello said.

Mr. Bello also clarified that the government is not yet completely closing the door on the possibility of peace negotiations.

“The President terminated the talks, but it is also very clear in his statement that he is not closing the possibility of the resumption (of the peace talks),” he said.

“It is terminated for now because the environment is not there, so we will have to wait for the enabling environment or a conducive environment for the conduct of the peace negotiations,” he explained, referring to the continued clashes on the ground between the NPA and government forces following the CPP leadership’s call for intensified attacks.

Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte, following the official termination of talks, has ordered the military and police forces to shoot armed NPA members.

“So, what will be my orders to them… shoot them. Eh they will kill you anyway. So if there is an armed NPA there or terrorists, if he’s holding any firearms, shoot,” Mr. Duterte said Wednesday during the send-off ceremony for five Vietnamese fishermen in Pangasinan.

“Ako na ang magsagot (I will answer for you), you just shut up. Do not answer if that issue of human rights (comes up), you say, ‘Go to Duterte. It is and was his order,’” he said, reassuring government forces.

In the same speech, Mr. Duterte also said that he is now preparing for an executive order (EO) formally declaring the NPA as terrorists.

Asked when the President will issue the EO, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said: “No fixed date but the President will do that.”

Mr. Roque, a lawyer, also said that Mr. Duterte is well within bounds to order the police and military to shoot armed rebels . “Anyone who bears arms is fusing rebellion.”

“The crime of rebellion is a crime of taking up arms against the government. So, natural, when you are bearing arms against the government you are engaged in crime, [then] you are supposed to implement the law, and yes, the President has that power to implement the law,” he said.

On the other hand, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo disagreed saying that is not what the Constitution provides.

“Ang sinasabi ng ating batas, na kapag mayroong nagkasala, mayroong proseso para alamin kung totoo ba iyong paratang, at mayroon namang nararapat na penalidad sa mga paratang (What our law says, if someone has committed a crime, there is a process to determine whether the allegations are true and there ought to be a penalty in every crime),” said Ms. Robredo, also a lawyer.

The vice-president, who belongs to the opposition party, said such policy is tantamount to “putting the law into our hands” and a disregard for democratic processes. — Arjay L. Balinbin and Rosemarie A. Zamora