By Francis Wakefield
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said claims made by Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) member Avelino “Billy” Andal that he has been tapped by Malacanang to conduct peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) is “fake news”.
In a text message to defense reporters, Lorenzana said that after making inquiries, he later found out that such information is false.
He said according to President Rodrigo Duterte, he never ordered Andal to represent the government in conducting back channel talks with the Reds.
“Latest info on Billy Andal’s claim that he was tapped by PRRD to conduct back channeling with the CPP/NPA. It is fake news. The President says he never ordered him to do so,” Lorenzana said.
Andal was earlier quoted as saying the President ordered him last week to help enable the revival of the peace negotiations with the group led by Jose Maria Sison.
“Napag-utusan ang inyong lingkod at utos mula sa Presidente na kung maari ma-resume ang pag-uusap sapagkat ang kanyang pinagdidiinan ay bilang Presidente ay siya’y kaibigan at hindi kaaway ng sinuman maging [ng] mga rebelde [I have been ordered by the President to possibly help resume the talks because he stressed that as President, he is a friend and not an enemy of anyone including the rebels],” he said in a phone interview with reporters.
“Makipag-backchannel talks doon sa mga lider ng CPP, kay Joma kabilang siempre si Joma na nasa ibabaw o lider ng lahat. Pero siyempre before doing that, kailangan muna mag-groundwork sa mga lider na nandito sa Pilipinas [I’ve been ordered to hold backchannel talks with leaders of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines), Joma who is the leader. But before doing that, there should be groundwork with leaders in the Philippines],” he added.
He said the President was sincere in his peace initiative believing that it was key to helping ensure the country’s progress and stability. Duterte, however, did not give any timeline for the backdoor talks with the communist rebels, he added.
“Wala naman specific timeline pero ang ramdam ko gusto talaga ni Presidente Duterte na magkaroon ng katahimikan sa bayan at magkasundo-sundo ang lahat ng mga pwersa at grupo na hindi pa nagkakasundo at this point in time. Dahil naniniwala siya na ang katahimikan ng bayan ang susi sa mas mabilis na pag-unlad na nais niya sa sambayanang Pilipino [There is no specific timeline but I feel President Duterte wants to have peace in the country, among the groups still fighting at this point in time. Because he believes that peace in the country is the key to faster progress for the Filipino nation],” he said.
Andal said he started to reach out to some representatives of the communist group who have welcomed the President’s willingness to restart the peace process.
“Nagpaabot na ako agad ng feeler para makausap sila at actually tuwang-tuwa sila dahil gusto rin nila ay bumalik sa usapang pangkapayapaan [I’ve sent feelers to talk to them and actually, they are happy because they also want to resume the peace talks],” he said.
“They are extremely glad na magkakaroon at saka open ang Pangulo para sa pag-uusap [They are extremely glad that the President is open to the talks],” he added.
Andal declined to disclose further details pending the backchannel talks with the rebels.