Rebels 'ready to talk peace with Manila'

Communists cheer Duterte's offers of Cabinet posts, release of political prisoners

Communist rebels waging one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies have said they are ready to resume peace talks with the Philippine government, as they welcome incoming President Rodrigo Duterte's "magnanimous" offers.

Mr Duterte, 71, who will be sworn into office on June 30, has offered four ministries to the communists and expressed willingness to offer a general amnesty to all political prisoners.

"We applaud the plans and programmes announced by President-elect Duterte. We believe these would be key factors to achieving peace," Mr Luis Jalandoni, the rebels' exiled chief peace negotiator, told Manila radio station DZMM by telephone.

He said delegations from the National Democratic Front and Mr Duterte's camp would meet shortly "as part of the process for preparing the resumption of peace talks", as well as to iron out terms of cooperation.

Mr Duterte on Monday offered the labour, social welfare, environment, and agrarian reform ministries to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He is also considering releasing all political prisoners "if I am satisfied that we are dealing in good faith".

Mr Duterte had kept close ties with communists during his three- decade tenure as de facto sheriff of the southern city of Davao.

Davao had been a battleground for communist partisans and anti-communist vigilantes when Mr Duterte was appointed acting mayor in 1986. He ran for mayor in 1988 and was elected. His communist links helped him keep the peace in Davao, transforming the city into one of the nation's safest.

CPP founder Jose Ma Sison, who is Mr Duterte's former professor, said no party member or guerilla would join the President-elect's Cabinet till a peaceful settlement is reached. But the CPP would recommend "patriotic and progressive" nominees to the Cabinet posts Mr Duterte offered.

Mr Sison, who has been in exile in the Netherlands for 30 years, on Tuesday urged all leftists to rally behind Mr Duterte. "For the first time, there is an opportunity for the progressive movement to have a president as ally. For the first time there is a president who opens his government to progressive and nationalist forces," he said.

Some 30,000 have died since the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), began waging their Maoist revolution 45 years ago.

The NPA peaked in the late 1980s when it had about 26,000 regulars. It is now down to some 4,000 fighters, its ranks decimated by a bloody ideological rift that split the communist movement into a number of factions.

Mr Duterte's overtures to communists have drawn mixed reactions.

Political analyst Julio Teehankee, a dean at De La Salle University, said Mr Duterte's offer of Cabinet posts to the CPP was "a stroke of genius". "This is really out of the box," he said.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, a former Navy special forces officer, said Mr Duterte should be "very prudent and very deliberate". "Do we really believe... Sison will truly give up his communist aspirations?" he asked.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Rebels 'ready to talk peace with Manila''. Print Edition | Subscribe