Aquino Peace Talks With Communist Rebels Falling Apart
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino’s peace talks with Communist rebels showed signs of falling apart Friday, one day after troops in the capital fired on leftist protesters and killed 12 of them.
The military admitted Friday it ″overreacted.″
One government peace negotiator, Maris Diokno, said she had resigned over the killings, the bloodiest such incident in Mrs. Aquino’s 11 months in office. The confrontation came when protesters surged toward Mrs. Aquino’s office Thursday, demanding land reform.
Rebel representatives at the talks, cornerstone of Mrs. Aquino’s national reconciliation policy, went underground Friday.
The two setbacks for the president - fading hopes of ending the 18-year-old Communist insurgency and condemnation of the Manila shootings from both left and right - came a week and a half before Filipinos vote on Mrs. Aquino’s proposed new constitution, in effect the first public test of her popularity.
Mrs. Aquino arranged to leave for the central Visayas islands Saturday to drum up support for the constitution.
Late Thursday, she urged calm and warned of further attempts to undermine her government before the Feb. 2 plebiscite.
The government said 12 people were killed Thursday and 54 remained hospitalized Friday, most with gunshot wounds. In all, 94 people were reported injured.
Marines fired in volleys as an estimated 10,000 protesters, organized by the militant Movement of Philippine Farmers, tried to break through police cordons on a bridge near Malacanang Palace, the presidential office.
In a statement Friday, the armed forces general headquarters said there appeared to be a ″lack of dialogue″ between demonstration leaders and authorities.
″It was further observed that the peace-keeping forces overreacted to the situation,″ it said.
The statement said armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos ordered commanders to cooperate with a presidential commission set up to investigate.
The government and the Communist-led National Democratic Front indefinitely suspended talks late Thursday because of unspecified death threats against both sides. The Front pledged to keep honoring the 60-day cease-fire, which expires Feb. 8.
The talks began Jan. 6 and have not made significant progress.
The government said earlier it would pursue talks with regional guerrilla groups if talks collapsed on the national level.
Miss Diokno, one of three government negotiators, said Friday the Manila killings were ″far more despicable″ than actions taken against demonstrators by forces of deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
″In the past few weeks I have found it increasingly difficult to defend the position of the government on a wide range of issues,″ she said in a resignation statement. ″Regardless of whatever provocation might have emanated from the ranks of the demonstrators, the killings were unjustified.″
Alice Valladolid, spokeswoman of the panel, said Miss Diokno would be replaced.
Nona Ocampo, daughter of chief Front negotiator Satur Ocampo, said the three rebel representatives returned underground. She gave no details.
Front representatives to the regional cease-fire committee in the central Visayas also were returning to the hills, fearing military moves against them as the talks collapsed and the end of the truce neared, the government’s Philippine News Agency reported.
The National Democratic Front on Friday accused the government of unleashing ″the full force of state power″ against the marchers because it failed to meet demands for land reform. Land reform is also a key Communist demand.
″The Aquino government ripped off its mask of democratic liberalism and bared itself to be no more than the deceitful successor to the fascist Marcos dictatorship,″ the Front said.
The Partido ng Bayan (People’s Party), the country’s largest legal left- wing party, and the May 1st Movement, the largest labor union, announced plans for ″indignation rallies″ starting Monday to protest the killings.
Former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Mrs. Aquino’s most prominent opponent, led the condemnation from the right. He said responsibility lay not in soldiers and officers but ″in the highest levels of the government.″
Marcos, in an interview Friday on the Cable News Network program ″Crossfire,″ said top civilian officials were responsible for the ″ruthless and merciless″ killing of protesters.
Mrs. Aquino’s government ″is going to crash at any time. I give it a few months,″ he added. The former president said the government is in danger of being taken over by communists.
Marcos said he would be willing to return to the Philippines if it could help prevent a bloody civil war.
Brig. Gen. Eugenio Ocampo Jr., regional military commander for central Luzon, meanwhile placed troops in six provinces north of Manila on full alert against a ″reported attempt by disgruntled elements of the military and unscrupulous civilians to destabilize the present government.″
The move followed renewed rumors of a coup attempt last weekend.