Duterte, Joma Sison can’t agree on venue for peace talks

JC Gotinga

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Duterte, Joma Sison can’t agree on venue for peace talks

Alecs Ongcal

‘Ano siya, sinusuwerte?’ says Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on communist party leader Jose Maria Sison’s insistence on a foreign venue for negotiations

MANILA, Philippines – It appears the prospect of another round of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) encountered its first deadlock, as President Rodrigo Duterte and CPP founder and leader Jose Maria Sison disagree on where to hold the negotiations.

Duterte’s “bare minimum” requirement is to have the talks in the Philippines. Sison wants a “foreign neutral venue.”

Sison, who lives in exile in Utrecht, the Netherlands, worries that he could get arrested once he steps on Philippine soil.

“The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) cannot trust any ‘no arrest’ declaration from the [government] side unless the repressive issuances and campaigns of Duterte are ended, the political prisoners are amnestied and released, the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms and a bilateral ceasefire are already in place,” Sison said in a statement on Wednesday, December 11.

The NDFP, the CPP’s political wing, could not trust Duterte’s government “while it refuses to carry out goodwill measures, such as the release of sickly and elderly political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, and engage in reciprocal unilateral ceasefires during the Christmas season up to the first week of New Year,” Sison added.

On Monday, November 9, Lorenzana said he would not recommend that Duterte declare a ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing, during the Christmas holidays because the NPA violated past ceasefires by carrying on invading and extorting money from villages even though they refrained from attacking government troops.

Duterte did not declare a ceasefire with the communist insurgents during the Christmas holidays in 2018.

“The regime still retains a militarist and fascist mentality and behavior,” Sison said, adding that the Duterte government “has to prove” that the proposed peace talks are not a mere “trap.”

Holding peace negotiations in neutral territory is standard practice among peace processes in history. In the case of the Philippines, government negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Font in the mid 1970s were held in Libya, while recent talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were hosted by Malaysia.

There was an attempt to hold peace talks with the NDFP in Vietnam during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, but it did not materialize.

‘That’s their problem’

Duterte made a surprise announcement on December 5 that he would send labor secretary Silvestre Bello III to talk to Sison in the Netherlands about the possibility of reviving peace negotiations.

Bello, who had led the government panel in earlier attempts at peace talks with the communists, confirmed to Rappler on December 7 that he was in the Netherlands to meet with Sison.

But it appears the communist leader has qualms about the government’s offer, and insists on staying away from the Philippines, where he would be under Duterte’s power.

“If they do not trust the assurance of the President that they will not be arrested, then that is their problem,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday, reacting to Sison’s statement.

Ano siya, sinusuwerte (Does he think himself so lucky)? In the first place, it was they who came to the President to request for the reopening of the talks through Sison’s emissaries,” added Lorenzana in a message sent to reporters.

As far as the defense establishment is concerned, their marching orders is to end the 5-decades-old communist rebellion as soon as possible, or at least before Duterte’s term ends in June 2022.

Early in his term, Duterte welcomed members of the communist movement in Malacañang and even appointed some of them to his Cabinet. Peace talks were initiated with the NDFP in Oslo, Norway, and had a couple of false starts.

Duterte then accused the NPA of double-crossing the government by carrying on their usual activities despite ongoing peace negotiations. The killing of a 4-month-old child in a gun attack on a police car in Bukidnon was the last straw, and Duterte formally terminated the peace talks in November 2017.

In December 2018, Duterte ordered the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to hold “localized peace talks” between local government units and individual NPA fronts.

The government has been enticing NPA guerrillas to defect and return to civilian life, as the police and military ratchet up their pursuit of rebel strongholds. Security forces have broadened their crackdown to include progressive groups that they accuse of acting as legal fronts for the CPP-NPA-NDFP. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.