President Aquino Says She Wants A Regional Truce
ILOILO CITY, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino met for the first time Friday with communist rebel leaders and is ready to negotiate a regional cease-fire on the island of Panay, a government spokesman said.
Mrs. Aquino said negotiating teams should be designated ″in the shortest possible time″ to discuss the proposal, according to spokesman Teodoro Benigno.
The 40-minute meeting on this central Philippine island about 200 miles southeast of Manila was arranged by Iloilo Archbishop Alberto Piamonte at the request of the government.
Mrs. Aquino met with Concha Bocala Araneta, a chief officer of the outlawed Communist Party, and Jose Torre, a Roman Catholic priest representing the National Democratic Front, a communist-led rebel umbrella group.
The two sides said in a joint statement they were ″open to the idea of a cease-fire.″
″The prospects are that we might have started a mechanism for a cease-fire and eventual peace on the island,″ said Piamonte.
Presidential aide Teodoro Locsin said he did not know whether the meeting had any link to stalled negotiations between the government and the guerrillas’ national leadership to end the 17-year-old insurgency.
In a speech on nearby Cebu Island, meanwhile, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile reiterated allegations that the comunists are not negotiating in good faith and ultimately want to seize power.
″In my own mind there are two governments in the Philippines,″ Enrile told a group of radio broadcasters. He said the ″government of the left″ was infiltrating Mrs. Aquino’s administration.
″Do we allow the existence of these two? How can we survive this? How long can we postpone an inevitable confrontation?″ said Enrile who has repeatedly called for tougher action against the rebels.
Cabinet members have criticized Enrile, saying he is trying to weaken Mrs. Aquino’s position.
Shortly before meeting with the rebels, Mrs. Aquino defended her peace policy.
″I am pursuing the path of negotiating with the insurgents because I want to spare our country further bloodshed and the loss of precious lives we need for the reconstruction of our country,″ she told soldiers at a military camp in Iloilo.
″The enemies of our new democracy ... have tried to demoralize you by saying that our peace initiatives derogate from the indispensible role and honored place of the soldier in our republic,″ she said.
Mrs. Aquino has tried since taking power in February to arrange a cease- fire with the communists, who have said a truce must be part of a comprehensive settlement including military withdrawal from some rural areas.
No talks have taken place since the Sept. 29 capture of Rodolfo Salas, the alleged commander of the rebels’ New People’s Army. The arrest occurred as the government said a truce was imminent.