MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte challeged Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison to return to the Philippines and speak with him even before the proposed resumption of formal peace negotiations, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Thursday, December 26.
Thursday marked 51 years since the CPP was founded in 1968.
“The President is daring [Sison] to come home to the Philippines and have a one-on-one talk with the President” separately from the negotiating panels of either side, which have yet to firm up plans for official talks, Panelo said in a briefing with Malacañang reporters.
Sison, exiled in Utrecht in the Netherlands for nearly 3 decades, earlier refused to hold peace talks in the Philippines, which Duterte has insisted on. The communist leader said the Duterte administration “could not be trusted” to keep its word that he would not be arrested if he were to come home.
Panelo reiterated the offer to Sison on Thursday, saying there would be “no enforcement of any warrant” against the CPP founder should he take up the President’s offer.
Although a formal invitation from Duterte did not appear to be forthcoming, Panelo said the President “is man enough and sincere enough.”
Panelo was unsure whether Duterte has relayed his challenge to Sison through Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who serves as the administration's liaison to Sison, and who will lead the government's negotiating panel.
“If [Sison] really wants to show his sincerity, he should come home,” Duterte’s spokesman and lawyer added.
Explanation for attacks
Duterte is also giving the communist party “the chance to explain” alleged violations of the holiday ceasefire between government troops and guerrillas, which the CPP unilaterally declared on December 23, and which the government reciprocated.
The ceasefire is to last until January 7, 2020.
The police and military reported 3 separate attacks allegedly by the CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), on Monday, December 23, in Iloilo, Quezon province, and Camarines Norte.
One soldier was killed and 6 others wounded in the ambush in Labo, Camarines Norte, while two policemen were injured in the Iloilo attack.
“We condemn, of course, the violations of the ceasefire agreement,” Panelo said on Thursday, noting that it was the CPP itself that initiated the truce.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier said the attacks showed that Sison and the higher leadership of the CPP-NPA and its political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF), could no longer control their own guerrilla fronts.
Another attempt at peace talks
Duterte made a surprise announcement on December 5 that he was extending a “last card” to communist rebels through yet another attempt at peace negotiations, after an initial round of talks bogged down in late 2017.
An exasperated Duterte then blamed the NPA for violating a ceasefire as peace talks were underway. He terminated the negotiations, and hostilities between government forces and communist guerrillas resumed.
In December 2018, Duterte ordered “localized peace talks” between local government units and individual NPA fronts. Malacañang and the military said that the tack has been "successful," having brought about the surrender of many NPA members.
Duterte’s proposal to start yet another round of wholesale peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF showed his “sincere desire for peace,” Panelo said. However, plans met an early debacle when Duterte insisted to hold the negotiations in the Philippines, which Sison opposed.
Peace negotiations are usually held in third-party venues. Sison suggested a country “near the Philippines,” but, as was evident on Thursday, Duterte still insisted on his position.
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.