President Rodrigo Duterte dared self-exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison to return to the Philippines for a one-on-one talk to explain why rebels violated the holiday ceasefire, the Palace said Thursday.
This came after the New People’s Army launched separate attacks in Iloilo, just hours after President Duterte declared a 15-day “unilateral and reciprocal” truce with the Communist Party of the Philippines.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo condemned the attack, which killed a soldier and wounded eight others.
Panelo said President Duterte talked to him on Christmas Eve and renewed his invitation to Sison, who is currently in self-exile in The Netherlands, to return to Manila without fear of arrest.
READ: Peace talks in Manila: Rody offers Joma safe passage
“The President is daring him to come home to the Philippines and have a one-on-one talk even before this panel—no government panel involved, no panel on the Communist side. He is asking him to come to the Philippines, there will be no enforcement of any warrant, just come to the Philippines and talk with him,” Panelo said.
Sison said a one-on-one meeting would be premature before the two sides approve the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic reforms.
In a statement, he said the negotiating panels should work this out in a neutral venue abroad.
“Nevertheless, I am willing to meet with President Duterte in a country near the Philippines after the formal resumption of the peace negotiations and the mutual approval of the Interim Peace Agreement,
provided the Royal Norwegian Government as third party facilitator helps in securing the necessary political, legal and security guarantees from a number of pertinent countries,” Sison said.
The communist leader had previously turned down the possibility of holding the peace negotiations in the Philippines and insisted a neutral third country should be the venue.
Armed rebels reportedly fired upon a platoon of soldiers from the 92nd Division Reconnaissance Company and detonated an improvised explosive device (IED), killing one and wounding six military personnel in Barangay Baay, Labo, Iloilo on Dec. 23.
The platoon was supposed to conduct security operations but was pulled out in compliance with the suspension of offensive military operations. The attack occurred as they were traveling back to base.
Hours after the attack in Barangay Baay, another group of alleged NPA rebels ambushed a police patrol vehicle in Barangay Singon in Tubungan.
The attack injured two other police officers.
The NPA claimed responsibility for the ambush but insisted the attack was in “active defense.”
Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, Philippine Army chief, called the attacks senseless and decried the timing just days before Christmas.
Sison dismissed the attacks as incidents that were not meant to violate the ceasefire.
In a lengthy statement, Sison also said the administration of President Duterte is “going downhill to hell.”
“The Duterte regime is going downhill to hell and cannot find enough relief from its imperialist masters to overcome the rising revolutionary movement of the Filipino people,” Sison said on Facebook in line with the 51st year of the CPP.
Panelo hit back and said: “He must be referring to himself and his movement.”
Meanwhile, Panelo backtracked from his earlier statement that President Duterte was not included in the list of names targeted by the NPA for assassination, as claimed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Panelo changed his tune after he discussed the matter with the security adviser.
“I was talking to Esperon, and he said the inclusion of Duterte in hitlist was validated, so it was not wrong info fed to them. Even if Joma Sison has denied it, the fact remains that Duterte is in the hit list,” he told Palace reporters.
Panelo also said the President is open to the possibility of excluding Davao City in the holiday ceasefire effective from Dec. 23 until Jan. 7 next year, as requested by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
In the wake of the recent NPA attacks, Senator Christopher Go said the rebels must show sincerity if peace negotiations are to prosper. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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