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Duterte: 4 Cabinet posts open to Reds

Release of all political prisoners mulled
/ 11:47 PM May 16, 2016
COMING HOME  Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is expected to return to the Philippines under a Duterte presidency after nearly 30 years of exile in The Netherlands. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

COMING HOME Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is expected to return to the Philippines under a Duterte presidency after nearly 30 years of exile in The Netherlands. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

DAVAO CITY—Presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte offered to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) the Cabinet posts of  agrarian reform, labor, social welfare and environment and natural resources as he welcomed the planned return of its self-exiled leader, Jose Maria Sison.

“These are the only departments I can concede,” Duterte said in his first formal news conference a week after his apparent landslide election win, if the communists decide to join his government.

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He said he was giving the labor portfolio to the CPP because “they are the most vigilant group in the Philippines about labor.”

“Yes, he is welcome,” Duterte said of Sison’s planned return to the Philippines. “I am happy with the statement that he is coming home. I would very much want to talk to him about resolving the insurgency problem.”

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Duterte, who called himself a “leftist” and was Sison’s student at the Lyceum of the Philippines in the 1960s, said he was even willing to comply with the communists’ demand to release their captured members.

“If I am satisfied we are dealing in good faith, I will consider releasing all political prisoners,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, declined comment on Duterte’s pronouncements about Sison, the CPP and ceasefire with its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

On the composition of the Cabinet, Padilla said any statement on the issue would be “highly speculative,” adding that this was still subject to consultations.

Returning Sen. Panfilo Lacson acknowledged Duterte’s prerogative to select his Cabinet. But he said Duterte’s choices would need approval from the Commission on Appointments. “That is the essence of checks and balances in our system of government,” he said in a text message.

 ‘Historic milestone’

In an online interview with Sison from his base in the Dutch city of Utrecht, Duterte’s Cabinet statement was “a historic milestone in the effort to achieve a just and lasting peace.”

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He said the movement would help in selecting the best possible people for Duterte’s official family.

Sison, 77, who fled to Europe soon after peace talks failed in 1987, wrote in a Facebook post last week he hoped to meet with Duterte before his inauguration on June 30.

“I do not begrudge the NPAs in looking for firearms,” Duterte said.

“But when I reach my oath-taking… they must realize I am the government and I am the enemy but I offer my hand in peace and we can talk.”

“If we begin the talks and I’m satisfied that we are dealing in good faith,  I will call a truce and maybe consider releasing all political prisoners as  part of confidence-building,” he added.

There are at least 350 political detainees languishing in various jails in  the country,  facing charges involving regular crimes such as murder and illegal possession  of firearms.

The insurgency is one of Asia’s longest and has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives since the 1960s.

The NPA is believed to have fewer than 4,000 fighters, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military. However, it retains support among the poor in the countryside.

President Aquino revived peace talks with the communists 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 got 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.

Agrarian reform

Former Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the CPP had the capacity to overcome the obstruction of landlords to the completion of the agrarian reform program.

“I think the CPP is very serious about agrarian reform. A new law will be needed owing to the lapsing of Carper (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms), and I hope Congress will not prove an obstacle here,” Bello said in  a text message.

Bello said the CPP would be ideal in fighting illegal loggers and would take a big step forward to end contractualization of labor, the reluctance of big business to grant workers permanent employment.

He expected the CPP to improve the conditional cash transfer program  from a mere dole to the creation of guaranteed employment for the poor.

“There will be resistance from management, foreign investors, and the landed class, but I hope the President will run interference, to use an American football term, to give his Cabinet members the space to institute the radical measures they will have to take. Overall, this is good news if the President-elect follows through with his plans and allows the Cabinet members to perform their tasks,” Bello said.

But Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said the NPA should renounce violence and give up its arms. “It must be a condition sine qua non. Otherwise, such appointments will always be met with skepticism and distrust by our people.”  With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Christine O. Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan in Manila; Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao; AFP and AP

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