Joma Sison: Rebels ready to restart talks
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison said on Friday that the communist movement was again ready to resume peace talks that have repeatedly been resumed and canceled over the past 33 years.
Sison, a political refugee in the Netherlands, said President Rodrigo Duterte’s moves to crush the communist insurgency “pose tremendous odds” for the resumption of the talks “but these can be easily overcome by reaffirmation of all previous agreements since 1992 by the [Government of the Republic of the Philippines and National Democratic Front of the Philippines],” Sison said from his base in Utrecht.
Time to tango
“Anyone or any side can make the first offer but it is [only] good if the two parties will do the tango,” he said. “May Duterte be hit by lightning, like how Saul on his way to Damascus. It could be the lightning of enlightenment.”
But over the past 33 years, both government and communist negotiators have alternately been responsible for the resumption and cancellation of at least 40 rounds of talks that started in 1986. And both sides reached only three “comprehensive agreements,” mostly with the administration of former President Fidel Ramos.
Sison made the remark after Duterte said at a national disaster council meeting in Legazpi City on Thursday that he would be sending Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was among the negotiators of the 1992 agreements as well as the Duterte administration’s earlier peace initiative.
“I am sending Bello,” the President said. “He is really a communist anyway … If Sison agrees, this [will] be my last card, when I say my last card. My time is running out,” Duterte said. “My stand is, being the President, I cannot say I no longer want to talk to them. All doors must always be open for peace. This for everybody.”
Sison, on the other hand, said both sides could restart work on all unfinished business once both sides agreed to reaffirm all previous agreements.
“We can go back immediately to the substantial progress made on draft agreements on the release of political prisoners, Caser (Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms), CAPCR (Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms) and ceasefire from 2016 to the time in 2018 when Duterte completely terminated the peace talks and even the back channel talks,” Sison explained.
Opposition lawmakers welcomed the development but were cautiously optimistic.
Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat urged the two sides to restart from where they left off without preconditions, as they welcomed Mr. Duterte’s latest overture, which occurred 10 months after he shut the door on negotiations and told the rebels to “talk to the next President.”
Cullamat said she hoped the President’s gesture was sincere “and not just bait to trap and imprison those will be attending” the peace talks.
“This is a positive development,” Zarate said. “We are of the position that the peace talks would be faster if it would resume where they left off and no preconditions would be imposed.”
Before the last talks were canceled, the two sides had sought to forge an interim peace agreement containing key provisions of the Caser, general amnesty of political prisoners and coordinated unilateral ceasefire.
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