Joma prepares to come home
Communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison has expressed hopes of ending nearly three decades in exile once Mayor Rodrigo Duterte becomes president, a potentially explosive homecoming opposed by senior military figures.
Sison, now 77, fled to Europe soon after peace talks failed in 1987 and has stayed abroad since, while one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies continued to claim thousands of lives.
“I will return to the Philippines if Duterte fulfills his promise to visit me,” the Netherlands-based Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder said in comments posted on his Facebook page late Wednesday.
“The prospects [for peace talks] seem to be bright at the moment,” Sison added.
Sison, a political science professor, established the CPP in December 1968 and it launched a guerrilla campaign three months later.
According to official account, the rebellion has left at least 30,000 people dead.
The New People’s Army (NPA) is believed to have fewer than 4,000 soldiers, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military. However the NPA retains support among the deeply poor in the rural Philippines.
President Aquino revived peace talks soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
The talks bogged down after the communists demanded the release of scores of their jailed comrades whom they described as “political prisoners,” which the Aquino government rejected.
Duterte, who was Sison’s student at a Manila university in the 1960s, is the longtime mayor of Davao City. Some of the communists’ strongholds today are near Davao, and Duterte has maintained close relations with them.
Last week, ABS-CBN released footage of Duterte chatting with Sison via Skype on his laptop.
“I’m a socialist,” said Duterte, who won Monday’s election in a landslide.
The network said the chat took place shortly after communist rebels freed five police hostages last month in Davao.
‘Arrest and trial of Aquino’
In comments posted on Facebook, Sison congratulated Duterte via an intermediary on his landslide win, and called for the resumption of peace talks, a ceasefire, the release of political prisoners and the “arrest and trial of Aquino.”
Duterte was ready to release ailing and elderly rebels on humanitarian grounds, as well as those whom the movement appoints as peace negotiators after vetting by the military, police and state prosecutors, his spokesperson Peter Laviña said on Thursday.
“Our people are suffering from the internal conflict… [businessmen] doing business in these areas have been suffering for long. Any move to still the guns, declare ceasefire would be very welcome,” Laviña told reporters.
Meeting in Europe
He said Duterte planned to see Sison during a trip to Europe before the president-elect takes his oath of office on June 30.
Sison’s comments were from a transcript of an interview he gave to Dubai’s Khaleej Times newspaper.
Sison said he hoped to return home soon, but the communist leader added the new government must first take steps to ensure his personal safety. AFP