Asia - Pacific

Philippines: Peace talks with leftist rebels continue

Exiled Communist Party leader says government, rebels, to accelerate negotiations

Philippines: Peace talks with leftist rebels continue File photo

By Hader Glang

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines

Philippines communist rebel leaders have announced the resumption of formal peace talks with the incoming government, with negotiations set for Oslo in the third or fourth week of July.

According to a local news report, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria Sison announced the formal resumption in a video message at a peace forum Tuesday at a gym in Davao City.

The announcement comes two weeks after President-elect Rodrigo Duterte sent a team of negotiators to Norway to discuss the possible resumption of talks with Sison, who has been in self-exile in the Netherlands since 1987.

Sison was quoted by MindaNews as saying that both parties are expected to take up the affirmation of previously signed agreements, a plan to accelerate the peace negotiations on the three remaining items of the substantive agenda, the release of all political prisoners by general amnesty, and the truce.

He said he was happy with the results of preliminary talks that took place June 14-15 in Oslo.

A spokesman for the National Democratic Front -- the CPP’s political wing (the NDF) -- added, however, that the resumption of talks may be moved to the fourth week as they need more time with regard to the release of "consultants".

Fidel Agcaoili was referring to NDF officials who are being detained and whose release the revolutionary alliance has been demanding as a precondition for the resumption.

In Tuesday's video message, Sison called on the party to look forward to the success "of the first formal talks in the time of the Duterte government".

"The success... will lead to further hard work by the principals, negotiators, consultants, cease-fire monitors and other focused personnel of the negotiating parties and to further inputs and support from all the peace-loving forces and people," he added.

Sison expressed optimism over the prospects of the negotiations with the new administration, and said he wanted to seize the opportunity.

“Let us take advantage of a new situation in which the worsening crisis of the ruling system, the growing strength of the people’s revolutionary movement and the failures of previous administrations have brought about a president who is courageous and proud to say that he [Duterte] is the first Left president of the Philippines and is willing to adopt and implement the necessary reforms for a just and lasting peace."

He noted that peace negotiations did not succeed under former presidents Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as well as under outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino III who Sison claimed lacked the political will to overcome “reactionary interests and use their power and resources to advance the peace process”.

The CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army, have been designated by the United States government as foreign terrorist organizations.

The CPP/NPA, a Maoist group, was initially included on the U.S. Country Report on Terrorism on Aug. 9, 2002, but the U.S. again included it on its list in 2016.

It was formed in March 1969 with the aim of overthrowing the government through protracted guerrilla warfare.

On Monday, Agcaoili, the NDF spokesman, told a press conference in Davao City that the Philippine government should ask the U.S. government to remove the CPP from the list to allay fears that Sison might be interdicted in a foreign airport on his way home.

“The U.S. has reiterated its declaration against the CPP-NPA -- and Joma -- as a terrorist organization. There are spoilers and security risks. If the government is interested to have Joma [Sison's nickname] come home to be able to talk to the president, they should raise it formally,” MindaNews quoted Agcaoili as saying.

He said the inclusion of the group on the U.S. list had made Sison’s return to the Philippines “a ticklish issue”, adding that they wanted an assurance that the U.S. will not intervene in such a way that will derail the peace negotiations.

“There should be a guarantee from the Dutch government, Norwegian government, and the U.S. government to respect the sovereignty of the Filipino people in their desire to pursue a just and lasting peace by allowing Sison to come home without interference,” he added.

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