President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has met with a senior communist guerrilla leader, the two sides said Thursday, raising hopes of ending one of Asia’s longest armed insurgencies.
Rebel negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said he talked to Duterte about how to immediately resume peace talks, three years after the incumbent president ended them.
“I am optimistic that the talks will be resumed. Our meeting was positive,” Agcaoili said, but did not specify if a timetable for the resumption of the talks had been set.
Running for almost half a century, the communist insurgency has claimed 30,000 lives, according to military estimates.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd revived talks soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
A spokesman for Duterte confirmed the meeting had taken place on Tuesday.
Duterte has vowed to seek a political settlement to the conflict.
He has offered four cabinet posts to the insurgents and expressed willingness to free ailing guerrillas from prison.
Netherlands-based Agcaoili said he was hopeful about Duterte’s commitment.
“He has political will,” he said of the president-elect. “Duterte is not like (President Aquino) who was fond of delays.”
He said Duterte told him that government emissaries will travel to the Netherlands to meet with the group and prepare documents needed for the formal negotiations and that he pledged to grant amnesty to political prisoners.
But Duterte’s designated negotiator, Silvestre Bello, said such a move would require congressional approval.
“He said he is considering, studying the possibility of recommending to Congress the passage of the general amnesty law,” Bello said.
“I am very confident peace negotiations will resume.”
The communists’ armed wing, the New People’s Army, is believed to have fewer than 4,000 soldiers, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military, however it retains support among the deeply poor in the rural Philippines.