Duterte awaits meeting with Joma Sison

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is awaiting significant progress in the talks between government negotiators and the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) so he could finally meet in person exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, he said in a speech over the weekend. 

"Dureza and Bebot Bello are there, nasa (in) Rome sila ngayon (right now).... I said, "Sige (okay), I will just wait for awhile. When you’re ready, it’s either I will go to somewhere in a third country where I can talk to Sison," Duterte said in Davao City Saturday night, January 14, referring to chief presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza and government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III.

"After that, if there’s something that is really official and substantial, then we can announce to the world that we have this agreement," Duterte added.

The meeting between Duterte and Sison will thus hinge largely on the success of the 3rd round of talks that will begin later this week, January 19-25, in Rome.

In the previous Aquino administration, there was also an attempt to consider a meeting between then president Benigno Aquino III and Sison, possibly in Vietnam, to fastrack negotiations, according to a Rappler source privy to the talks then. The talks collapsed under the Aquino administration over disagreements on how to break their deadlock.

During the 3rd round of talks in Rome this week, Bello is aiming to sign the already delayed bilateral ceasefire agreement and complete the draft on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms or CASER. (READ: Gov't panel to meet Duterte before critical 3rd round of talks)

Communication lines between Duterte and his former professor Sison have been open since the campaign period, with the 2 occasionally having televised Skype calls or private mobile phones conversations. The NDF panel was also invited to a dinner in Malacañang

The two camps are currently deadlocked on the joint ceasefire deal, an agreement that the government is hoping to sign to guarantee a prolonged ceasefire between the military and the New People's Army (NPA). The NDF is stalling as it protests the delayed release of political prisoners. (READ: Gov't in backchannel talks to protect ceasefire with Reds)

After releasing 22 high-profile NDF consultants and granting pardon to 4 convicted NDF members, Duterte said he will not allow further releases until the NDF signs the bilateral ceasefire deal that will put in place common rules for the military and the NPA.

The NDF said it is willing to sign an agreement but it will only be effective when the President fulfills his promise to release the remaining political prisoners.

The releases and the joint ceasefire deal were the 2 agreements during the 1st round of talks in August 2017 that were meant to put in place a conducive environment for the panels to discuss reforms, particularly on the country's socio-economic policies, political systems, and the Constitution. – Rappler.com