Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison hopes to come home to the country this year after over three decades in exile in The Netherlands, ahead of the anticipated resumption of peace talks between the government and the leftist National Democratic Front on June 28.
“Yes... I’ve always been optimistic,” Sison said in a wide-ranging interview with ABS-CBN News posted Monday about the possibility of returning to the Philippines, which canceled his passport in 1987.
Home, he told ABS-CBN, is still the Philippines.
“Maybe, as soon as I go down the airport, I’ll be smelling Philippine scents and hearing Philippine sounds,” Sison said. “That would be a joy.”
The 79-year-old writer and activist, who has been living in Utrecht with his wife Julie de Lima, said he is ready to go home as soon as there is “substantial progress” in the negotiations between the CPP-NDF and the government.
President Rodrigo Duterte, Sison’s former student, has repeatedly asked the communist party founder to return to the Philippines to continue the peace negotiations.
But the CPP chief said this would mean giving up the “advantages of negotiating in a foreign neutral venue,” which is Norway.
Duterte’s “volatile nature” is also a factor, Sison told ABS-CBN, as the President “could easily order the resumption of talks just as easily he could end them.” He did so earlier following continued attacks by communist rebels on government troops despite ongoing negotiations.
Despite being criticized by his colleagues as someone who has opted to enjoy life abroad while comrades do the actual battle back home, Sison said he was “not absolutely against” returning to the Philippines but “at the proper time.”
“Of course, I would prefer to be with compatriots,” he told ABS-CBN News. “It was not my choice to get political asylum here.”
An interim peace agreement, Sison said, is expected to be signed when formal talks between the government and the NDP resume late next month. Both sides were expected to announce a “stand-down” agreement two weeks before that.
“So, by June 14, plantsado na [it’s all ironed out],” he said. “Of course, I may be proven wrong because everything depends on that joint announcement... but I don’t see any problem because there may be some misunderstanding, but they can be solved.”
A copy of the stand-down agreement obtained by ABS-CBN News calls for a “temporary cessation of hostilities in which the contending armed units and personnel” of both sides “stay where they are.”
They will take “an active defense mode” but will “not commit any offensive action or operation against combatants and civilians.”
An “as is where is” provision seeks to avoid “any kind of movement... which may be considered as a provocative and/or hostile act.”
A member from each of the negotiating panels will serve as coordinators to “work on measures to prevent the escalation of hostilities that may arise from certain incidents.”
“No retaliatory act shall be taken by either party,” according to the draft agreement, which both sides hope to replace with a coordinated unilateral ceasefire later.
The wider interim peace accord hinges on agreements now being ironed out by both sides on a ceasefire, amnesty proclamation, and major portions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER, which is considered the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations.
The rebels are pushing for CASER to address the root causes of the armed struggle, with provisions on genuine agrarian reform and rural development, and nationalization of certain industries.
”I think within one round, we can finish CASER and that would be a signal for me to return to the Philippines,” Sison said, noting that an agreement on political and constitutional reforms could also come soon afterward.