Philippine communist rebels on Wednesday said they will enter into peace talks with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and ask him to add four of their political allies to his Cabinet.
Duterte, who won a landslide victory in last week’s elections, had offered four Cabinet posts to the insurgents and expressed willingness to free ailing guerrillas from prison to jumpstart peace negotiations that had stalled three years ago.
“We applaud the plans and programs announced by President-elect Duterte. We believe these would be key factors to achieving peace,” Luis Jalandoni, the rebels’ exiled chief peace negotiator, said in a radio interview.
The Netherlands-based Jalandoni said the rebels were expected to shortly exchange delegation visits with the Duterte camp “as part of the process for preparing the resumption of peace talks” as well as to iron out terms of cooperation.
Duterte on Monday welcomed plans by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison to end nearly 30 years of Dutch exile to take part in the peace talks.
He said the return of Sison, his former political science professor at a Manila university, would be important in helping to end the rebellion, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives since the 1960s.
Jalandoni and Sison said no guerrillas will actually serve in Duterte’s Cabinet prior to reaching a political settlement, when the insurgents hoped to lay down arms and join a coalition government.
“We have relayed to President-elect Duterte that [guerrilla]personnel themselves would not be taking up government posts, but we will recommend a list of qualified, competent and dedicated persons that could fill the posts,” Jalandoni said.
He said this will include nominees to the Labor, Social Welfare, Environment and Agrarian Reform portfolios that were offered to them by Duterte, who takes office on June 30.
Jalandoni added that the rebels will consider a ceasefire and ask the Duterte government to release 543 “political prisoners.”
President Benigno Aquino 3rd ended talks with the communists in 2013 over the rebels’ demand for the unconditional release of their detained comrades that his government was unwilling to grant.
Senators, however, said while Duterte has the power to appoint members of the Cabinet, these will be screened by the Commission on Appointments.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said whoever will be nominated for a Cabinet post should be screened thoroughly.
“Dapat may proseso para masiguro na may katapatan na sila sa Republika [There should be a process to ensure that they are loyal to the Republic],” he added.
Sen. Vicente Sotto 3rd and Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed Ejercito’s statement, saying the President has the prerogative to appoint Cabinet officials but he also has to respect the decision of the Commission on Appointments.
But for Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, the proposal to give Cabinet posts to the CPP as well as Duterte’s plan to grant general amnesty to all political prisoners may end the decades-old insurgency.
He, however, said the government “should be very prudent and very deliberate in our approach.”
“Do we really believe that [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?” the senator asked.
Trillanes, a former Navy officer, said such generous offer of Dutere should have requisites.
“Otherwise, [Sison] and the communists might take advantage of this and use this freedom, power and influence to actually strengthen their forces to pursue their cause like what they did during the Cory administration. We should learn from history,” he added, referring to Corazon “Cory” Aquino, President from 1986 to1992.
Lacson said those who would be appointed have to take their oath of office and swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the Philippines.
“Then the issue of the CPP/NPA/NDF not laying down their arms and abandoning their armed struggle to overthrow the duly constituted authority with the objective of taking over the government may have to be resolved first before they formally assume office,” he added.
NPA is the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the CPP, and the NDF is the National Democratic Front, an umbrella organization among whose members are the CPP and the NPA.