UTRECHT, The Netherlands: Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), made himself clear—he did not endorse Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as his preferred next president of the Philippines.
“But how can I do that when he did not yet declare that he is running for president?” he said laughing, in front of him a cup of brewed coffee sitting cold – untouched – on a long white table, the ‘centerpiece’ inside the office of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) here.
Sison together with NDFP peace panel chief Luis Jalandoni and NDFP spokesman Fidel Agcaoili recently sat down with the Times for a free-wheeling interview.
Sison said Duterte has all the characters of a good leader.
But among the presidential aspirants, the NDFP officials clearly have good things to say about Duterte even as he is yet to declare his presidential bid.
For Sison, unlike other presidential aspirants, Duterte has the grasp and understanding of the struggles of the Filipino people and the only one who has set a direction on how to address the peace problem in the country.
“Hindi siya sakim at kilala nya ang mga problema ng Pilipinas (He is not greedy and he knows and understands the problems of the people),” Sison said.
If he becomes president, Duterte can become the Filipino Hugo Chavez.
“He has the characters of Hugo Chavez,” said Sison, noting how the late Venezuelan leftist leader who galvanized the development of his country since coming to power in 1999.
Just like Chavez, Duterte, Sison said, is “dauntless and bold.”
Jalandoni called Duterte the “most forward” among the candidates.
“He is only the one who has laid down possible policies that underscore his commitment to peace. He is the most forward of all candidates,” he said.
He was referring to the earlier declarations of Duterte that he will forge a coalition with the Communist Party of the Philippines to end the 47-year communist rebellion in the Philippines.
The possibility of a coalition with the previous governments had been proposed by NDFP, but the past administrations spurned this.
Jalandoni also noted Duterte’s roles in the release of various prisoners of wars in Mindanao and his friendship with slain New People’s Army rebel Leoncio Pitao or Commander Parago.
Duterte has also repeatedly called for the government and the NDFP to resume the peace negotiations, even offering himself to become a negotiator.
But Sison also made himself clear that he complimented Duterte, a former student that he could no longer remember, for his type of leadership and distinct character that sets him apart from the others.
“Pinuri ko siya,” [I praised him]he said.
The three spoke about the hurdles of the peace process between government and NDFP and the prospects of renewing the negotiations after the 2016 elections – when the Philippines has once again elected a new leader.
It appears that the NDFP is already resigned to the fact that the Aquino administration is not at all interested to push for the resumption of the peace process.
They have recognized that presidential aspirants Grace Poe and Jejomar Binay have made statements about their plans to open the talks again, but the NDFP is cautious.
I asked the NDFP trio if these statements of ‘promises’ from Poe, Binay, and Duterte excite them. They just laughed.
Connie Ledesma, a member of the NDFP peace panel, interjected from the background.
“Maybe the question should not be whether the NDFP is excited ,” said the wife of Jalandoni, who was also present at the office, along with Sison’s wife, Julie.
“Maybe it should be – whether the NDFP has expectations,” she said, a statement that generated laughter.
“These statements are general statements. There are no details,” pointed out Agcaoili. “As for Duterte, his promises are not coherent.”