PNP: Arrest warrant vs Joma Sison stands despite fresh peace talks

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The Philippine National Police says arrest warrants for communist rebels, including their leader Joma Sison, will remain valid even as President Rodrigo Duterte is eyeing a fresh round of peace talks.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — Arrest warrants for members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) will remain valid despite a fresh round of peace talks eyed by Malacañang, the Philippine National Police said.

PNP Spokesperson PBGen Bernard Banac said police will continue to hunt down communist rebels who have pending cases before the courts, despite a fresh attempt to talk peace triggered by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Tayo ay nakaantabay lamang kung ano ang magiging opisyal na pahayag. Sa ngayon, tuloy-tuloy ang ating law enforcement operations," Banac said in a Monday press briefing. "Lahat ng may mga standing warrants of arrest ay patuloy nating tinutugis at hinahanap upang sila ay mapanagot sa batas at dalhin sa korte upang harapin ang kanilang mga kaso."

[Translation: We are waiting for the official position of the government. For now, we continue with our law enforcement operations. We continue to hunt down all those with standing warrants of arrest in order to bring them to court and face charges.]

He added that the PNP supports the possible resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party.

Last week, Duterte announced he is sending former government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to speak with Sison anew to restart negotiations with the CPP founder.

Sison is currently in the Netherlands on self-exile but said he is willing to meet with Bello for peace negotiations. Duterte said this would be his "last card" towards peace.

The Manila Regional Trial Court in August ordered the arrest of Sison and 37 others for 15 counts of murder in connection with the discovery of a mass grave in Inopacan town, Leyte in 2006. The skeletal remains supposedly belonged to members of the CPP and its armed wing New People's Army, who were allegedly killed by their comrades in 1985, on suspicion that they were military informants. Sison previously dismissed this as a fake plot to frame rebels.

READ: Court orders arrest of Joma Sison, others for 1985 massacre

Sison said the National Democratic Front of the Philippines has always been open to peace talks, saying the latest attempt is timely ahead of the Christmas season.

He said the discussions can start through goodwill measures like reciprocal unilateral ceasefires and the release of political prisoners who are elderly and sick.

"In my view, the peace negotiations can be resumed in a formal meeting to issue the declaration to reaffirm the agreements that have been forged since 1992, to overcome the presidential issuances and other obstacles that have prevented peace negotiations since 2017 and to set the agenda and schedule for these negotiations and to fullfill political, legal and security requirements," Sison said in a statement on Monday.

In September, the PNP said it sought the help of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the Dutch government to arrest Sison through a Red Notice, which would request all law enforcement authorities worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive, pending extradition, surrender, or other similar legal actions.

Bello led a peace panel who talked to Sison and his team, but Duterte ended these discussions in March. Before that, Duterte revived peace talks early into his term but ended it in November 2017 as the two panels accused each other of violating ceasefires.

The Philippine government considers communist rebels as terrorists, but the move to formalize this tag is still pending in a local court.

READ: DOJ asks court to formalize CPP-NPA terror tag

For now, the PNP said its units have been ordered to be more vigilant for possible attacks by rebel groups, ahead of its founding anniversary on December 26.

"Over the past decades, ang Communist Party of the Philippines at New People's Army ay naglulunsad ng mga armadong pag-atake laban sa mga pwersa ng pamahalaan sa tuwing sumasapit ang kanilang founding anniversary... Tayo po ay may direktiba na sa lahat ng police units natin ang kanilang pagtataas ng alert level nang sa gayon ay hindi malusutan o maatake ang ating mga police stations," Banac said.

[Translation: Over the past decades, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army have been mounting armed attacks against government forces in time for their founding anniversary... We have issued a directive to all police units to raise their alert level so that no police station will be attacked.]

CNN Philippines' Janine Peralta and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.