MANILA, Philippines – Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison has reached out to President Rodrigo Duterte, hoping his former student will listen to the growing clamor to continue peace negotiations.
Sison said he is confident that the path the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the CPP's political wing, have set in the 3 rounds of talks could lead to ending nearly half a century of communist rebellion in the Philippines. (READ: PH, NDF make significant headway in talks despite clashes)
In a statement on Thursday, February 9, Sison stressed that the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), and the NDF are committed to the peace process.
"They wish to pursue with the GRP the bright prospects that started with the first round of formal talks in August 2016 and overcome the peace spoilers that run counter to the progress that has been achieved in the third round of formal talks," he said.
He called for backchannel talks and appealed to Duterte to tone down his anti-communist rhetoric as they clarify "misunderstandings" that, Sison said, were instigated by peace "spoilers."
"I propose to him to consult thoroughly with his negotiating panel and the peace advocates in his own cabinet and others outside of his government, and encourage and allow back-channeling efforts to clarify misunderstandings and solve immediately the current problems," Sison said.
Sison also called for the involvement of the third party facilitator, Norwegian Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum, who, he said, might help in the continuation of talks.
Sison cited the significant successes achieved in the negotiations, so far.
"The biggest achievements in moving forward the peace process are the exchange of full drafts of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) by the reciprocal working committees of the GRP and the NDFP, and the complete drafts of the CAPCR by the reciprocal working groups," he said. (READ: PH, NDF talks: Both sides need to make painful compromises)
Based on Sison's timeline, the two panels could finish talks on CASER (socio-economic reforms) and CAPCR (political and constitutional reforms) this year and they can co-found the proposed federal republic of the Philippines by 2018.
Sison said talks could proceed despite the resumption of violence on the ground, as had been the case during the administration of former president Fidel Ramos when "more than 10 major agreements were made...while fighting went on."
Sison said the ceasefire could be reinstated through a bilateral ceasefire deal in 2017 if the talks proceed smoothly.
He also said the panels can discuss by 2020 the 4th and final agenda that will complete the peace process – end of hostilities and the disposition of forces.
Sison lamented that the "clear significant success of the third round of the formal talks has been overshadowed by the reaction of President Duterte to the announcement of the termination of the unilateral ceasefire by the CPP and NPA."
Sison said he understood Duterte's reaction to the 3 soldiers who were killed by communist rebels, but said "there should have been a measure of restraint in his reaction in order to preserve the GRP-NDF peace process."
Duterte followed the NPA's move with a series of pronouncements – he lifted the government ceasefire, scrapped the talks, and canceled an agreement that provides immunity to prisoners tapped as consultants to the talks.
Sison said the situation "should not have gone this far."
Hope remains alive that talks could still proceed because of a scheduled meeting next week among Duterte, government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, and the 3 NDF nominees in the Cabinet – National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convenor Liza Maza, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, and Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.