DAVAO, Philippines: Incoming Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday he would seek an early start to peace talks with communist rebels and free detained guerrilla chieftains when he takes office in end-June.
He also offered safe passage for Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the insurgency who fled to European exile nearly 30 years after the failure of initial attempts to end one of Asia’s longest armed insurgencies.
Duterte is betting on his close friendship with Sison, his former university teacher, to bring a swift political settlement to a rebellion that has killed about 30,000 people by official count and impoverished vast swathes of the country.
“I will… give him (Sison) a safe-conduct pass,” the soon-to-be President told a midnight news conference in his southern hometown of Davao.
He said Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, the detained alleged leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army, would also be let out to take part in the peace talks.
Incumbent President Benigno Aquino revived peace talks soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
The talks got bogged down after the communists demanded the release of scores of their jailed comrades whom they described as “political prisoners,” which the Aquino government rejected.
Duterte, who met a rebel emissary in Davao 10 days ago, said he would also be sending out two members of his cabinet to Norway for preparatory meetings with the exiled rebel leaders.
Norway had acted as go-between in failed peace talks between the Aquino government and the rebels.
“I have commissioned them to go to Oslo… to go there for the framework and agenda that (we) will talk about,” Duterte added.
He said the two cabinet emissaries would then “maybe accompany Jose Maria Sison home.”
Should his emissaries be able to hammer out an agreement, “then I will release all the political prisoners,” Duterte said — the rebels’ term for their jailed comrades.
The rebels have hailed Duterte’s earlier offer for a ceasefire, as well as to allow the rebels to nominate their allies to four positions in his cabinet.
However they have also urged him to release all detained rebels that they said numbered more than 500. AFP