Stalled peace talks with communist rebels will resume only if the New People’s Army stops its extortion and attacks on police and government troops, the Palace said Wednesday, after President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday night that National Democratic Front chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili is welcome to come home.
“I think attorney Agcaoili has sounded off. He was coming again to talk. And I told the military and the police just allow him [to come home],” Duterte said in a speech Tuesday. “After all, we are on a waiting period about the appropriate time to talk about peace. I am not that cruel.”
Duterte also had words for Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison
“I am not saying that I am now in agreement with Sison. I don’t like his style but I do not hate him. We are friends and we can be friends. Some other time they say I would kill for money. But since Sison is my professor, I will kill him for nothing. Except that before he goes to the blue yonder, kindly find time to talk sensible peace
,” the President said.
The President said the communist rebellion has been going on for 53 years without succeeding.
“It’s a lost cause. I suggest that we do not make any demands. We go to the table and talk about it. And if he proposes something which is not acceptable and I would say, ‘No, I cannot accept that’,” Duterte said.
“And if I propose something and he does not relish it, then maybe he can go back to Netherlands. If there’s no peace, there is no way that he can come back.”
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Wednesday reiterated the President’s conditions for a return to the negotiating table.
“We will return to the peace talks
, one, if they stop extortion. Two, if they stop attacking our police forces,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
In November last year, Agcaoili, NDF consultant Luis Jalandoni and panel member Coni Ledesma were supposed to return to Manila to conduct informal talks with the President.
They canceled their trip after Agcaoili claimed that the government’s peace panel advised them not to push through with the resumption of peace talks.
But Panelo said the NDF consultants’ apprehension about returning to the Philippines was “misplaced.”
“The President has been telling them that they are welcome to come if they want to talk. They will not be arrested. However, they expressed apprehension that they will be arrested. I already told them that their apprehension was misplaced, they’re welcome,” he said.
The Palace official said the communist group may even set conditions for the government to consider. Such conditions, however, must be “reasonable.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said Agcaoili was already in the country but his whereabouts were unknown.
“He was already here since last week,” Lorenzana said Tuesday night.
Agcaoili and Ledesma have no pending criminal case in the country while Jalandoni has a pending murder case.
Duterte terminated the peace talks with the communists in 2017 amid a series of rebel attacks on military and civilian targets. He later declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations.
Lorenzana said the government remains open to the resumption of peace talks with the communists, provided that the rebels would cease their attacks, extortion, and burning of equipment.
He also said that Duterte’s decision to allow Agcaoili to return to the country means “that the government has not closed the door on peace talks.”
Sison implied that Agcaoili will be meeting with his counterpart in the government, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
“Agcaoili and Bello are competent representatives,” Sison said in a statement on Wednesday.
“They are conscious of seeking a common ground by responding to the needs and demands of the people and striving to agree on social, economic and political reforms as basis for a just and lasting peace.”
Communist rebels on Monday released eight more government soldiers who were taken in Agusan del Sur on Dec. 19, 2018.
The eight captives—two army troopers and six auxiliary men, were the second batch of NPA hostages freed. Six civilian volunteers were freed last week.
Maj. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command, identified the eight kidnap victims as Cpl. Eric Manangan and PFC Darlino Carino; auxiliary men, Jimuel Acebedo,
Abel Iligan, Jan-jan Iligan, Roland Quiao, Gabriel Iligan, and James Iligan.
Santos said the release of all the hostages was facilitated by representatives of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente who then requested Christopher Go and President Rodrigo Duterte’s youngest son Sebastian to turn them over to the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade.
READ: Troops foil NPA from burning heavy equipment
The military viewed the release as a propaganda move, noting that the psychological and emotional trauma the families had endured during their captivity will remain.
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