Duterte: Reds, gov’t panel have 60 days to restart talks
President Rodrigo Duterte has set a two-month deadline for the resumption of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), saying that it was the rebels who had been pushing to reopen the negotiations.
He said he was giving the government and the NDFP peace panels “a timeline of something [like] two months, 60 days” to return to the negotiating table.
“We’re good or we break off,” he added.
He said he could host the discussions and take care of arrangements.
“I can foot the bill,” he said during a dinner party late on Thursday at the Sofitel Hotel organized for him by his allies in Congress.
The President had promised to end the nearly 50-year Maoist rebellion, which has killed more than 40,000 people, by finding a political solution but he abandoned the peace efforts in November, complaining of repeated rebel attacks.
In February, his administration petitioned a court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) terrorist organizations. It also sought to tag about 600 people, including about two dozen rebel consultants in the talks, as terrorists.
Exiled CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison who now serves as political consultant for the NDFP peace panel, welcomed Mr. Duterte’s announcement directing his peace adviser to find ways to restart the negotiations.
Sison urged government and rebel negotiators to immediately set a meeting to discuss issues blocking the early resumption of the talks, including conditions set by the President — a stop to all rebel attacks and “revolutionary tax” collections and the dropping of any demand for a coalition government.
The President said it was the rebels who wanted the resumption of the talks.
“You can read in between the lines. They are really asking for talks to resume,” he said.
“Look at the text: ‘Salamat, President Duterte for returning to the negotiating table,’” he said, without identifying the sender of the message or when it was sent.
He said the message was “so important” and a “big deal” to the rebels.
Even soldiers preferred talking over fighting, he added.
He had asked government troops whether they wanted to continue fighting or resume negotiations. He said he was told: “Sir, if you ask us, if we are ordered, we will fight. But if we can avoid killing, sir … ”
“I said, ‘OK, let’s talk,’” he said.
Sison on Saturday urged the government to reaffirm all previously signed agreements to remove all obstacles to the negotiations.
“This means that the government should withdraw Proclamation 360 and 374 and its proscription petition so that the NDFP consultants who were arrested and being hunted could come out and participate in the peace negotiation,” Sison said in an online interview.
On Nov. 23, 2017, the President signed Proclamation No. 360 that terminated the talks. On Dec. 5, 2017, he issued Proclamation No. 374 declaring the CPP and NPA terrorist organizations under the Human Security Act.
The President said he would give Sison and other rebel negotiators the freedom to move around “during the truce period.”
“And if we fail, then I will be happy to send you off to the airport. But do not ever, ever come again, because the next time, I will personally shoot you,” he said he told Sison. —With reports from Delfin T. Mallari Jr.