Philippine rebels to enter talks, name allies to Duterte Cabinet

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a news conference in his hometown Davao City in southern Philippines, on May 16, 2016.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte speaking during a news conference in his hometown Davao City in southern Philippines, on May 16, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine communist rebels waging one of Asia's longest insurgencies said on Wednesday (May 18) they would 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 programmes announced by president-elect Duterte. We believe these would be key factors to achieving peace," Luis Jalandoni, the rebels' exiled chief peace negotiator told Manila radio station DZMM by telephone.

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, the mayor of the southern city of Davao, on Monday welcomed plans by Communist Party of the Philippines 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.

Both Jalandoni and Sison said no guerrillas would 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 would include nominees to the labour, social welfare, environment, and agrarian reform portfolios that were offered to them by Duterte, who takes office on June 30.

Jalandoni also told DZMM the rebels would consider a ceasefire and would ask the Duterte government to release 543 "political prisoners", the insurgents' term for imprisoned comrades.

Incumbent leader Benigno Aquino 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.