President Rodrigo Duterte, who has on more than one occasion threatened to slap or kill Jose Maria Sison and described him as a son of a whore and a conceited demon, says he is “keeping the fire burning” on possible peace talks with the communist rebels.
In a speech in Camarines Sur Friday night, Duterte said although he and Sison no longer understand each other, he could not completely shut the door on peace talks to end 50 years of armed insurgency.
“You cannot afford to lose all channels of communication, you will leave [the door] even slightly open," the President said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In response, Sison, who has called Duterte a psychopath, a murder maniac and the country’s no. 1 terrorist, said the rebels remain open to negotiations.
In a statement issued Saturday, Sison said it has been the "consistent policy" of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the communist rebels in peace talks, to remain open to the negotiations.
"I welcome the statement of Duterte that he is still open to peace negotiations even as there is still an exchange of hostile words in the mass media and exchange of bullets in the battlefield," Sison said.
But, with some candor, the communist leader in self-exile also said the “principal work” of the rebels now is to oust Duterte from power.
Some might view this latest exchange a slight sliver of hope, but the record has shown no reason for much optimism.
Duterte started his term with the best promise for peace with the rebels in six administrations, bringing to the table a personal relationship with Sison, who was his professor at the Lyceum University. But after some promising gains, Duterte broke off negotiations in November 2017, citing repeated rebel attacks on government forces.
Since then, Duterte, 73, and Sison, 79, have been trading insults, casting doubts on the other’s health, and trying to discredit the other’s ability to lead.
In the context of these verbal attacks and the unwillingness on either side to budge, the President’s remarks about keeping the door open—and Sison’s response—seem nothing more than lip service to the now fading prospect of peace in their time.
Peace negotiations have been held hostage for far too long by old men who can't get over their own egos—not even for the sake of the country.