Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given negotiators 60 days to work out an agreement to end the nearly 50-year Communist insurgency, officials say.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr, during a press briefing at the Presidential Palace, said the president said the 60 day time frame offered by the President to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) would be the “last chance” for peace.
“I don’t think there’s a divergence of views on the root causes of rebellion — it is poverty,” Roque said. “So if the government and the CPP-NPA agree to address the root causes, then it should not even take 60 days.”
“We have a common platform. More comfortable life for everybody,” he added.
Roque said the 60-day period would start as soon as both sides clearly agree upon the specific conditions for the revival of the peace negotiations.
“No target … as far as I know, both have to agree to resume peace talks and the 60-day period should be reckoned from that day,” he said.
The order from Duterte to restart peace negotiations would be his second.
At the start of his term in mid-2016, he promised to work for a negotiated settlement to the insurgency.
Continuing attacks from the rebels prompted the president to call off the talks in 2017.
Roque, in the same breath, also assured the safety of CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison should he decide to return to the Philippines to talk peace with the government.
“The president has given his word that he will not be apprehended while in the Philippines … His liberty will be guaranteed by the president,” Roque said.
An ideologue, Sison founded the CPP in 1969. He continued to wage rebellion and was caught during the late 1970s. In 1986 he was freed by then President Corazon Aquino.
He went into self-imposed exile in the Netherlands and continued to wage the rebellion in the Philippines.
Roque clarified that, apart from guaranteeing the Communist leader’s protection while in the country, the president had not acceded to any other conditions set by the CPP.
“I don’t know if he’s in the position to provide for conditions,” he said, referring to Sison’s recent statement that significant advances in the peace talks should first be attained before he returns home.
“The problem is we’ve been talking peace with them for years and years. There seems to be no end to it so I think [that’s why] the president said this is our last chance,” Roque said.
Of April 5, Communist officials, represented by their negotiating arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF), sealed an interim joint ceasefire agreement with the Philippine government in Noordwijk aan Zee, Netherlands.
Both parties concluded provisions on a draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) aimed at addressing the root causes of the rebellion.
“The ceasefire takes effect as soon as the guidelines and ground rules are finalised and approved,” a statement from both parties said.