MANILA, Philippines – Release of political prisoners. Agreement on a mutual ceasefire. These are the “inseparable twins” Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison wants before he returns home from 30 years of exile in the Netherlands.
“Mark my words, if political prisoners are released and there’s a mutual ceasefire, I will come home,” Sison said during an interview on Rappler Talk on Tuesday, May 17. “The release of all political prisoners and mutual ceasefire are inseparable twins,” he emphasized.
Sison said the release of political prisoners is “an obligation” of government and in compliance with existing agreements such as the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law “which prohibits trumping up charges of common crime” against people affiliated with the New People’s Army (NPA) or rebellion.
Duterte’s camp said they are ready to discuss the terms of reference of a mutual ceasefire, after which they can discuss the release of political detainees.
In an interview on dzMM Wednesday, May 18, National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Philippines chairperson Luis Jalandoni said there are 543 political prisoners at present, 88 of them sick and elderly, 18 of them NDF peace consultants, and 3 sentenced to life imprisonment.
Among those in prison are alleged CCP chief Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma who were arrested in March 2014. The sickly couple was arrested in Cebu over standing warrants of arrest for crimes against humanity, including murder, multiple murder, and frustrated murder charges. The CPP maintained these are trumped up charges.
Sison said Duterte and his appointed peace negotiator Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III have already said that they will respect existing agreements.
“If we are after a common and something good for the entire Filipino people such as a just and lasting peace so we can unite and develop the country, I think liberating political prisoners is a small matter,” he said.
“Duterte has a strong character and he’s a lawyer so he knows the legal basis of the release,” Sison added.
The Davao City mayor is known for his deep ties with the CPP-NDF and the NPA. As local chief executive, he put Left-leaning candidates in his city council and even allowed a hero’s burial and a funeral march for NPA leader Leonardo Pitao or Kumander Parago.
The openness of the Duterte administration to the Left became more apparent when it offered to appoint nominees from the Left to 4 departments: the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). (READ: Duterte to Left: 4 departments yours)
Sison welcomed the offer from his former student whom he described as having “a generous spirit in comparison with the Aquino-Cojuangco greedy kind of family.” He also said the Cabinet appointees to the 4 departments that were offered need not be communists but can be patriotic and progressive people.
“Accepting the post by patriotic and progressive people who may not necessarily be communists could be seen as promoting the peace negotiation,” he said.
The network now has a committee to vet “people-oriented, competent, honest, and diligent” nominees, according to the current chief political consultant of the NDF.
But while the recent pronouncement of Sison’s former student is a sign that he, as a president, “is willing to accommodate the Left,” the further involvement of the CPP should go through the peace talks.
“These must be laid through the peace negotiations,” Sison explained. “There are things that need to be done for the NDF to be very active in cooperating.”
“After the peace negotiations, when there’s also a full-fledged government of unity, peace, and development where communists and simply anti-imperialists can openly participate, I think there would be an allotment of spaces for a broad range of people,” he added.
The NDF is looking to the incoming government to prioritize social-economic reforms – specifically genuine land reform – along with political and constitutional reforms, and national industrialization.
Reforms before disarm
Sison, however, emphasized that the NPA is not planning to lay down their arms in the next few months. The armed group is “more than willing” to continue with the stalled peace negotiations under the Duterte administration – eventually leading to a permanent mutual ceasefire.
“The problem, if a revolutionary movement is in a hurry to disarm itself before reforms are carried out, those in power will just dismiss the revolutionary movement later on,” he said.
The eventual peace and ceasefire between the communist rebels and the Philippine government is not so far-fetched anymore, Sison said, because Duterte’s appointed officials – Jesus Dureza and Bello – already worked effectively in the past. (READ: Duterte, Joma on Skype: Ceasefire if Davao mayor becomes president)
“We also welcome the appointment of Jess Dureza as peace adviser and Bebot Bello as chief negotiator with NDFP,” Sison said. He was referrring to Jesus Dureza and Silvestre Bello III who are not newcomers to the peace process.
Dureza was the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process under the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, while Bello participated in the government’s peace negotiations from the time of President Corazon Aquino up to the time of Arroyo.
“What’s good with the new government is that it is harnessing people who we already negotiated with so successfully so it’s good to have them again on the other side of the table,” he explained. “They know how to defend the interest of their own government and at the same time, they recognize what’s reasonable between the Manila government and the NDFP,” Sison said.
The appointment of the two officials who “are not obsessed with trying to trip the NDF and push them over the cliff” is a welcome change, he added.
After all, Sison said that the common point of reference is the interest of the people and “not the game of outwitting the other side.”
Under a Duterte presidency, Sison said he sees a “bright future” for the Left. – Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com