Push for resumption of peace talks between Philippine govt, rebels gathers pace

Rodrigo Duterte (third from left) walks with members of a communist rebel group New People's Army on April 25, 2016.
Rodrigo Duterte (third from left) walks with members of a communist rebel group New People's Army on April 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Rodrigo Duterte offered a portfolio to exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison (right), who welcomed the olive branch but said he would decline a post for himself.
Rodrigo Duterte offered a portfolio to exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison (right), who welcomed the olive branch but said he would decline a post for himself.PHOTO: AFP

DAVAO (Reuters) - Groundwork is being laid for a resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and Maoist rebels, an aide to incoming President Rodrigo Duterte and a negotiator said on Tuesday (May 17), as a renewed push to end the conflict gathered pace.

The National Democratic Front (NDF), the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is preparing to discuss a framework for dialogue and has already dispatched an advanced delegation to Davao City, where Mr Duterte has been mayor for 22 years, they said.

On Monday, Mr Duterte said he would give four Cabinet positions to the communists, including responsibility for an agency tasked with allocating land to poor farmers. Land usage has been a factor in the on-off, four-decade conflict between government troops and Marxist guerrillas that has killed 40,000 people.

Mr Duterte also offered a portfolio to exiled CPP founder Jose Maria Sison, who welcomed the olive branch but said he would decline a post for himself.

Mr Jesus Dureza, a former congressman and aide to Mr Duterte, said NDF spokesman Fidel Agcaoili was in Davao as the incoming government was preparing its position on the peace process.

"We are still preparing the new government's peace roadmap," Mr Dureza, who will be Mr Duterte's adviser on peace talks when he takes office on June 30, told Reuters.

Mr Manuel Quinob, a peace advocate who has been involved in earlier negotiations, told Reuters that talks were scheduled with Agcaoili.

Efforts to end the leftist insurgency stalled in 2011 when the government refused to free political prisoners.

Political analysts say chances of progress in restarting dialogue are helped by Mr Duterte winning the presidency as he has good relations with the political left.

Mr Duterte has promised to guarantee the safety of Mr Sison, the CPP founder and former Catholic priest Luis Jalandoni if they return to the Philippines. The two senior rebel leaders live in exile in the Netherlands and have sought asylum there.

Mr Sison, who was Mr Duterte's political science professor when he was at university, was freed by late President Cory Aquino in 1986 and fled to Europe.

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday, Mr Sison said he was "very proud" of Mr Duterte and welcomed his moves to seek rapprochement.

Mr Duterte won the largest share of the votes in the May 9 presidential election, according to an unofficial count by a poll watchdog, although the official result has yet to be confirmed.

Experts say one bone of contention could be Mr Duterte's support for releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

The military and the police, which have long been opposed to the communists, declined to comment on any such amnesty.