MANILA, Philippines – Responding to a dare by President Rodrigo Duterte, Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria "Joma" Sison said a trip home before the approval of a reform agreement between the government and the communist rebels is "premature."
In a statement on Thursday, December 26, Sison argued that the negotiating panels of the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) – CPP's political wing – should first work out the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) "in a neutral venue abroad for the benefit of the people, especially with regard to genuine land reform and national industrialization."
"I thank President Duterte for the offer to meet him one-on-one. But it is premature for me to go to the Philippines before the mutual approval" of CASER, he said.
"Nevertheless, I am willing to meet with President Duterte in a country near the Philippines after the formal resumption of the peace negotiations and the mutual approval of the Interim Peace Agreement," said Sison, provided that the government of Norway would be the third-party facilitator.
This is to help "in securing the necessary political, legal and security guarantees from a number of pertinent countries," he added.
In arguing against going back to the Philippines, Sison said, "I would be putting the prospect of peace negotiations at risk if I make myself available for any kind of attack" by military and police officers "who think that they can end the revolutionary movement by getting rid of me and who are increasingly disobedient to President Duterte and continue to make offensive movements despite the current ceasefire ordered by the CPP to the NPA [New People's Army]."
Earlier Thursday, the 51st anniversary of CPP's founding, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte challenged 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.
Panelo also reiterated that no warrant would be enforced against Sison in case he decides to take Duterte up on the offer.
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said earlier that if Sison and the CCP "do not trust the assurance of the President that they will not be arrested, then that is their problem." (READ: Duterte, Joma Sison can't agree on venue for peace talks)