Manila / AFP
Philippine communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison has expressed hopes of ending nearly three decades in exile under the new presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, a potentially explosive homecoming opposed by senior military figures. Sison, now 77, fled to Europe soon after peace talks failed in 1987 and has stayed abroad since, while one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies continued to claim thousands of lives.
“I will return to the Philippines if Duterte fulfils his promise to visit me,” the Netherlands-based Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder said in comments posted on his Facebook page late Wednesday.
“The prospects (for peace talks) seem to be bright at the moment,” Sison added.
Sison, a political science professor, established the party in December 1968 and it launched a guerrilla campaign three months later.
The rebellion has left at least 30,000 people dead, by official account.
The New People’s Army is believed to have fewer than 4,000 soldiers, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military, however it retains support among the deeply poor in the rural
Incumbent President Benigno Aquino revived peace talks soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
The talks got bogged down after the communists demanded the release of scores of their jailed comrades whom they described as “political prisoners”, which the Aquino government rejected.
Duterte, who was Sison’s student at a Manila university in the 1960s, is the longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao. Some of the communists’ strongholds today are near Davao, and Duterte has maintained relations with them.
Last week, local television station ABS-CBN released footage of Duterte chatting with Sison via Skype on his laptop.
“I’m a socialist,” said Duterte, who won Monday’s election in a landslide.
The network said the chat took place shortly after communist rebels freed five police hostages last month in Davao.
Sison said in the comments posted on Facebook he had congratulated Duterte via an intermediary on his win and called for the resumption of peace talks, a ceasefire, the release of political prisoners, and the “arrest and trial of Aquino”.
Duterte was ready to release ailing and elderly rebels on humanitarian grounds, as well as those whom the movement appoints as peace negotiators after vetting by the military, police and state prosecutors, his spokesman Peter Lavina said on Thursday.