Duterte dares Sison to a one-on-one talk in PH

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President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 26) — President Rodrigo Duterte is challenging communist leader Jose Maria Sison to come home to the Philippines for a one-on-one talk ahead of the expected resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a media briefing on Thursday said Duterte made this statement on Christmas Eve as they talked about the armed communist rebels' alleged ceasefire violations.

"The President is daring him (Sison) to come home to the Philippines and have a one-on-one talk with the President," Panelo said.

"The government is open to a talk with them (rebels) but even prior to the talk the President stated that he wants Joma Sison to come over, not to fear of any arrests. [If] he's man enough and he's sincere enough, he can come over and have a one-on-one discussion with the President," Panelo added.

Sison, still on self-exile in the Netherlands, said he is willing to have a one-on-one meeting with Duterte subject to certain conditions.

He said he will only meet Duterte in a country near the Philippines after the mutual approval of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. He added that the Norwegian government should also help in securing "necessary political, legal and security guarantees from a number of pertinent countries."

"I would be putting the prospect of peace negotiations at risk if I make myself available for any kind of attack by officers of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) who think that they can end the revolutionary movement by getting rid of me," Sison said.

He also took a jab at the military and the police for supposedly violating the ceasefire. The government has also accused the Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), of violating the truce.

Panelo said Duterte wants the CPP to explain why the NPA attacked government forces in Camarines Norte and in Iloilo on Monday, which marked the beginning of the holiday truce.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represents rebels in negotiations with the government, said the NPA fighters were just defending themselves from the attacks initiated by the police and military.

Duterte has ordered authorities to investigate.

The holiday ceasefire will take effect until January 7, 2020, although the NDFP, the political unit of the CPP, said it has yet to receive from the government copies of the suspension of military and police operations. Meanwhile, Panelo said the President is considering the request of his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to exclude the city from the ongoing ceasefire.

'Out of desperation'

On the 51st anniversary of the CPP on Thursday, Sison sid the government has failed to end the communist movement for more than five decades now, making it the longest running armed insurgency in Asia.

"Thus, out of desperation, he offered once more peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on December 5," Sison said in a statement.

"The Duterte regime is going downhill to hell and cannot find enough relief from its imperialist masters," the CPP founding chairman added, referring to US and China.

Panelo said Sison "must be referring to himself and his movement," as the government said has reduced communist forces through the surrender of several NPA rebels through localized peace talks.

The Armed Forces said the CPP has "nothing to celebrate" since it has lost the support of most Filipinos in the countryside. "It has become insignificant in a nation governed by strong political will to end insurgency that is bereft of any ideology," its statement read.

Duterte walked away from peace negotiations with the rebels in 2017 as both sides accused each other of ceasefire violations. He has since pushed for local government officials to talk to the rebels, promising housing, cash, and livelihood assistance if they surrender.

READ: How peace talks with communist rebels failed