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Exiled Reds welcome Duterte’s interest to reopen peace talks

Reds remain open to peace talks – Joma

Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (File photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Updated @ 2:35 a.m., Feb. 21, 2019

Exiled communist leaders on Wednesday welcomed, albeit with mixed feelings, President Rodrigo Duterte’s renewed interest in reopening the peace talks.

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Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison described as “better than entirely hostile” the President’s statement on Tuesday that he would allow the insurgents’ chief peace negotiator, Fidel Agcaoili, to return to the country to resume peace talks.

“The statements of Duterte … are mixed. They carry positive and negative content, as well as serious and joking expressions,” Sison said in an online interview from Utrecht, the Netherlands, on Wednesday.

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“But they seem to be better than entirely hostile and cruel,” he added.

Agcaoili, chair of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said in a separate online interview that the communist insurgents remained “open to resume peace talks with the [government] without preconditions.”

“We are ready to hear more details of this latest offer of the [government] to resume the talks,” said Agcaoili, who, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, has been in the country since last week.

The umbrella group of all underground communist organizations, the NDFP has represented the insurgents in on-and-off peace negotiations with the government since 1986.

Don’t arrest Agcaoili

On Tuesday, the President said he had told the military not to arrest Agcaoili when he returned to the country.

“I think Attorney Agcaoili has sounded off. He was coming again to talk and I told the military and the police to just allow him [to move around],” he said in a speech during the ninth anniversary of the Mindanao Development Authority in Davao City.

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“After all, we’re on a waiting period about the appropriate time to talk about peace. I am not that cruel,” the President added.

Due to security concerns, NDFP leaders dropped plans in November last year to return to Manila to work for the possible resumption of peace talks.

In his speech, the President also told Sison to “find time to talk sensible peace” because, he said, time was running out.

Sensible peace

“Before he goes to the blue yonder, kindly find time to talk sensible peace,” the President said. “We have been in that war for 53 years. If you had not succeeded in just about five years, it’s a lost cause.”

Sison noted that the President’s declaration of renewed interest in peace talks had some ambiguities.

Pressed to elaborate, Sison said: “Duterte is subtle in making a threat, or is only stating a fact that everyone has limited time.”

“I cannot try to answer the mixed statements of Duterte publicly because to do so can make me appear as the one [who is] mixed up. It is best to let the negotiators meet and do their job,” he said.

Sison said he would let Agcaoili “sort out Duterte’s statements” with his government counterpart, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

Whereabouts unknown

Lorenzana on Wednesday said Agcaoili returned to the country two weeks ago, but his “whereabouts is unknown.”

He did not say how he came to know about Agcaoili’s presence in the country.

Sison described Agcaoili and Bello as “competent representatives” of the NDFP and the Philippine government.

“They are conscious of seeking a common ground by responding to the needs and demands of the people and striving to agree on social, economic and political reforms as basis for a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Peace talks between the government and the NDFP broke down in November 2017. The President blamed it on continuing rebel attacks on state security forces. /lzbb /pdi

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