Duterte pledges communist talks


The New People’s Army has been in the field for decades. Source: YouTube

Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has promised to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels in July, sources say, with hopes of ending one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies that has resulted in around 30,000 deaths since the 1960s.

Negotiations folded in 2013 but the brash Duterte campaigned that he would revive the negotiations aimed at bringing a political settlement to a decades-old rebellion.

The two sides released a joint statement saying meetings would be held in July in Oslo.

Duterte, who takes office on June 30, has offered a ceasefire and to free ageing communist rebels. He also named two rebel allies to his new cabinet.

The former mayor of Davao city, Duterte is the first president from the southern Philippines, where the rebellion has been fought since the late 1960s.

At talks in Norway, which is working as a go-between in the talks, both sides agreed to discuss an amnesty for all political prisoners, subject to the approval from the Philippines parliament. They will negotiate about an interim ceasefire and a timeline for talks.

Duterte’s side added that they would recommend some detained communist militants be allowed to join the talks, which was one of the rebel demands.

Renato Reyes, secretary general of the left-wing organisation Bayan (Nation), said he hoped Duterte would release sick and elderly inmates on humanitarian grounds.

In excess of 500 political prisoners are being detained, including 19 members of the communist negotiating team.

“We will recommend the release of all political prisoners to Duterte once he assumes the presidency and both sides will work for an interim ceasefire to boost the formal resumption of peace talks in the third week of July in Oslo,” said Jesus Dureza, Duterte’s peace adviser.

There was no comment from the communist rebels.

The outgoing president, Benigno Aquino, restarted negotiations soon after taking office in 2010 but scrapped them in 2013, questioning the communists’ will to find a political settlement.

The talks ended when Aquino refused to free scores of their jailed comrades.

The fighting has impoverished vast swathes of the country.

Manila claims the rebels’ armed wing, the New People’s Army, has fewer than 4,000 troops, down from a peak of around 26,000 in the 1980s, but retains support among rural poor.