Manila: The exiled founder of the 49-year-old Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) called on President Rodrigo Duterte to return to the negotiating table in 2018.

Duterte “should return to the negotiating table in 2018”, said CPP founder Jose Maria Sison in an online interview from the Netherlands, a transcript of which was sent to reporters on Tuesday.

It was a New Year’s wish, said Sison, adding, “He should allow the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front [NDF, the negotiating arm of the CPP-NPA] panels to work out the comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms to lay the basis for a just and lasting peace.”

But during CPP’s celebration of the party’s 49th anniversary, on December 26, it ordered the NPA to intensify guerrilla attacks nationwide, and to build “the broadest united front” to overthrow Duterte.

“We are looking forward to mark the Party’s 50th anniversary next year with even bigger and more momentous victories in the ideological and organisational fields,” CPP said, adding that members of its “growing peasant movement” will stage more demonstrations in 2018.

Four rounds of government-NDF negotiations were held in Europe after Duterte — who called himself a socialist — was elected in mid-June 2016. Duterte was a student of Sison at Manila’s Lyceum University in the 70s.

In May 2017, Duterte suspended the talks following NPA attacks on government forces.

On November 23, Duterte signed Proclamation No. 360 that terminated the government-communist peace talks. On December 5, he issued Proclamation No. 374, which declared the CPP-NPA a terrorist organisation. It has yet to be approved by a regional trial court.

In 2002, the US State Department had classified the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organisation.

Both sides have been engaged in on and off peace talks since 1992.

Criticising the great divide between the haves and the have-nots in the Philippines, the CPP-NPA reached 25,000 in 1968, during the time of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The number dwindled to 5,000 after the ouster of Marcos by a people-backed military mutiny in 1986.

Since then, however, the 3,800 strong CPP-NPA has remained in control of far-flung “red villages” that do not receive government services. It has been Southeast Asia’s longest running leftist group whose insurgency campaign has claimed 30,000 lives.