MANILA — The government rejected today a key Communist demand to remove strategic U.S. military bases in a stepped-up war of words on the eve of critical talks aimed at ending the country's 17-year guerrilla insurgency.
President Corazon Aquino's government also insisted that there can never be any form of power-sharing with the Communists and rejected a demand for the integration of Communist forces into the Philippine army.
The announcement came one day before government and rebel panels begin hammering out an agenda for peace talks. Substantive talks aimed at ending the country's guerrilla war begin Jan. 6. More than 18,000 people have died in the fighting since 1979.
Presidential spokesman Teodoro Benigno insisted that removal of the bases is "not negotiable."
He said the existence of Clark Air Base and Subic Bay naval base--Washington's largest overseas installations--was addressed in the new 1986 constitution, which is expected to be ratified in a Feb. 2 plebiscite.
The new charter allows for the retention of the bases beyond their expiration in 1991 provided a new treaty negotiated by Aquino is ratified by the Philippine Senate.
Chief governnment negotiator Teofisto Guingona said that although power-sharing cannot be considered, rebels will be allowed to run for office under the new constitution.