MALACAÑANG on Thursday said it might consider withdrawing a petition before a Manila court seeking to declare communist rebels as terrorists, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to reopen peace talks that were scuttled in November last year.
The Department of Justice filed the petition with the Manila Regional Trial Court on February 21 tagging both the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist and outlawed organizations.”
Roque said the government could instead file a manifestation to hold the Justice department’s petition “pending the outcome of the peace talks.”
“While the peace talks are ongoing, what we can do is, it will remain there,” Roque told reporters.
He said the court won’t be able to make a ruling on the terrorist tag petition without hearings and the presentation of evidence.
“It’s not going to move forward and the CPP-NPA would not be declared terrorists until government is not finished
presenting evidence,” he said.
Duterte on Wednesday told negotiators to resume peace talks with the communists “with clear instructions on the importance of forging a ceasefire agreement to stop mutual attacks and fighting while talks are underway,” according to Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.
The President also committed to provide livelihood assistance to rebels provided that they stop collecting so-called “revolutionary taxes.”
CPP founding chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, however, insisted there should be no preconditions for the resumption of the talks.
Roque stressed that the conditions set by the President for the resumption of peace talks were non-negotiable.
He said the Palace would wait for the official response of the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF), to the President’s pronouncement.
“We don’t know in the first place if the CPP-NPA will agree to the terms of the President because the terms are not subject to negotiation. Number one is absolute ceasefire, number two cease and desist from collecting revolutionary tax, number three no coalition government as part of the agenda,” Roque said.
“We are awaiting their response to the government position that we’re willing to resume peace talks but subject to those conditions. So if that’s the official response of the CPP-NPA then so be it,” he added.
Asked what prompted the President to change his mind, Roque said, “I can only surmise that it is the President’s commitment to achieve a lasting peace for the country.”
Roque said Duterte had directed former Agrarian Reform secretary Hernani Braganza to meet with the negotiating panel of the communist group to relay the government’s position.
“Former congressman Nani Briganza was deployed yesterday to meet with the bargaining panel of the CPP-NPA to relay these information to them… So if the CPP-NPA would agree to these conditions, then peace talks could resume,” he said.
Braganza was also involved in backchannel talks with the rebels when Benigno Aquino 3rd was president. Peace talks were formally resumed in 2016 under Duterte.
According to Roque, Duterte was willing to give safe passage for Sison, his college professor, if the peace talks resume.
Sison fled to Europe soon after peace talks with the government of then-president Corazon Aquino failed in 1987 and has stayed in the Netherlands since, while the country’s longest running insurgency continued to claim thousands of lives amid fighting with government troops.
On the other hand, Roque said all orders against communist rebels remain in effect —including the detention of NDF legal consultants, who were released for the resumption of talks in November 2016.
A number of communist negotiators were detained since the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig)—a 1995 deal on “free and unhindered passage” of individuals involved in the talks—no longer holds.
“You know that if the peace talks push through, they will have a ‘free pass,’ the Jasig, to take part in the talks. And Duterte will grant Joma Sison the same benefit,” Roque said.
Military ops continue
Roque also clarified the nature of the assistance the President wanted to extend to communist rebels in exchange for their giving up the revolutionary tax, saying it would be more of a “humanitarian” act.
“He will find ways to assist members of the CPP-NPA by way of providing them livelihood and housing, if possible, provided that they cease and desist from collecting ‘revolutionary tax,’” he said.
Roque said while there is no agreement between the two parties on the resumption of talks, military operations against the NPA will continue.
“[W]e will not allow attacks to continue while talks are ongoing. That’s the reason why the talks were stalled because while we’re talking about peace, they continue to kill our soldiers and civilians,” he said.