DAVAO CITY—Talks are already underway between the Communist Party of the Philippines and the camp of President-in-waiting Rodrigo Duterte, the chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front, Fidel Agcaoili, said Wednesday.
The NDF also confirmed that Duterte has promised a general amnesty for all political prisoners.
“There were already talks with Mayor Duterte early Tuesday morning. We discussed how the peace process would move between the NDF and [the government],” Agcaoili said in a TV interview on CNN Philippines.
Duterte also bared plans to meet exiled CPP founder, Jose Ma. Sison, Agcaoili said.
On Tuesday morning, the NDF negotiator handed Duterte a bag full of books from Sison, who is in exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Sison told The Standard in an interview Tuesday that he would offer an immediate and mutal ceasefire with the incoming administration as the leftists prepare to nominate members to join Duterte’s new Cabinet.
Agcaoili stressed the need for formal talks about procedures for the peace process.
“There should be extensive discussions on mutual ceasefire and agreements on social, economic and political reforms,” Agcaoili said.
In another television interview on Wednesday night, Duterte said his decision for progressives to join the ranks of his government would ensure an improvement of ties with the communists.
“Remember that I was elected as president on a basis of [what] I said, I will try to improve things in this country and make it comfortable for everybody,” Duterte told GMA News.
On Monday, Duterte offered four Cabinet positions to the CPP, namely the departments of Agrarian Reform, Environment and Natural Resources, Labor and Employment, and Social Welfare and Development.
Asked about the seriousness of his pronouncement, Duterte said that he just wants an end to the ideological war that killed thousands.
“Why? The military faction is there, there are rightists in the government, the elite that controls the economy. Do you want to fight forever? Do you want to elect government after government, 20 governments in a row [and] you want to fight to death? Is that what you want,” Duterte said.
He also reiterated his campaign promise to talk to rebel groups—the New People’s Army, the Moro National Liberation Front, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front— during his term.
“The communist rebels are not criminals. They fight for ideology. The fight is intellectual. So that life will change, they need a new setup for a new order,” Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said in Filipino.
He added that he believed the military and police would be loyal to their commander-in-chief, despite their reservations over the involvement of communists.
“They trust Mayor Duterte. They believe in him.... They will follow the commander-in-chief,” he added.
NDF chairman Luis Jalandoni said Duterte plans to grant an amnesty to all political prisoners in a bid to end a four-decade communist insurgency.
“We are pleased that Duterte said there would be a general amnesty once he becomes president,” Jalandoni told radio dzMM in Filipino.
Jalandoni said there are currently 543 political prisoners, 88 of whom are sick and elderly. Out of the total, 18 are also NDF peace consultants while three were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The NDF chairman said peace negotiations with the Duterte administration would succeed because of his openness to work things out with the CPP.
“In our view, that’s a big factor so that we can obtain peace and national unity,” he said.
Peace talks between the Aquino administration and the CPP-NDF collapsed in February 2011, after the communists insisted on the release of its consultants as a prerequisite for talks.
But Agcaoili said their side demanded nothing, while Aquino said they had to lay down their arms.
Outgoing House deputy minority leader and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III on Wednesday said he has accepted the offer by Duterte to serve as peace negotiator with the communists.
Bello said Sison’s offer of an immediate and mutual ceasefire was a positive development.
“This could pave the way for the resumption of the formal peace negotiations,” Bello, former Justice secretary, said in a text message to The Standard.
At the same time, Bello said Duterte’s offer to give the communists four key Cabinet posts was a “gesture of building bridges.”
Bello had led peace talks with the communists in 2004, but those bogged down after the US included Sison and the CPP-NPA on its terrorist list.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, a member of the leftist Makabayan bloc, echoed Bello’s optimism about the peace talks.
Zarate said the Makabayan bloc in the House will fully support Duterte.
Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya said the Armed Forces of the Philippines can easily adjust to the security plan that Duterte wants to pursue to unify the country and bring about genuine peace and security.
“We in the military can always adapt to any kind of situation, from war to peace and development. Who would not want this insurgency to end? If peace is attainable without killing each other, then let’s join hands to take that path,” Visaya said.
Duterte is expected to name Visaya as his first military chief after he called him a “vibrant general.”
Visaya is a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Matikas” Class 1983.
Asked if the AFP’s anti-insurgency program Internal Peace and Security Plan or IPSP Bayanihan is history in view of Duterte’s overall peace plan to enjoin the communists led by Jose Maria Sison in his government, Visaya said this would be determined by the outcome of the peace talks.
“The president-elect knows very well what he is doing. We’ve a chain of command of which he is the commander-in-chief of the AFP,” Visaya said.
“We always want to attain peace as fast as we can because it has been 47 long, long years. The rebellion caused by the communist rebels had very damaging effects on our economy. Again, we’ve to stop killing each other, let’s unite because we’ve a bigger challenge that our sovereign nation is facing.... We’ve to hasten efforts to modernize our AFP,” Visaya added.
In a statement released Wednesday, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay welcomed Duterte’s plan to release all political prisoners through a general amnesty.
“This will partly give justice to the political prisoners, whose rights were violated,” she said.
She said that at present there are 543 documented political prisoners languishing in different government jails across the country.
“Majority, if not all, of the political prisoners were detained based on trumped-up criminal charges against them, violating their rights under the GPH-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees,” Palabay said.
“There should be no set conditions on the release of political prisoners, especially the obligation to admit guilt because the political prisoners did not commit the crimes charged against them,” she added.
Karapatan records show that the political prisoners have been charged with common crimes such as arson, murder, frustrated murder and other similar crimes.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday warned that the communists would take advantage of Dutertes offer of Cabinet posts.
In a text message, the former Navy officer noted that there should be requisites to such a “generous offer.”
“Otherwise, Joma Sison and the other communists might take advantage and use this freedom, power and influence to actually strengthen their forces to pursue their cause,” Trillanes said.
“Do we really believe that Joma Sison will truly give up his communist aspirations? Would the political detainees to be given amnesty, like the Tiamsons, be swearing an oath of allegiance to our government and permanently lay down their arms?” said Trillanes.
He said trying to include leftists in the government had not worked during the time of the late President Corazon Aquino.
“We should learn from history,” he added. – With Sandy Araneta and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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