Leader of the Philippines’ communist insurgency, Jose Maria Sison, will be welcome to return home after nearly three decades in exile and participate in peace talks, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has said.
The Communist Party of the Philippines founder wrote in a Facebook post last week he hoped to come home following the landslide May 9 election win of Duterte, with whom he has maintained ties while living in the Netherlands.
“I do not begrudge the NPAs (communist New People’s Army) in looking for firearms. But when I reach my oath-taking… they must realise I am the government and I am the enemy but I offer my hand in peace and we can talk,” he said at a press conference on Monday.
Duterte previously said late Sunday that Sison’s return to the Philippines would be important in helping to end the rebellion.
The insurgency was one of Asia’s longest and has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives since the 1960s.
“Yes, he is welcome. I am happy with the statement that he is coming home. I would very much want to talk to him about resolving the insurgency problem,” Duterte told reporters in the southern city of Davao where he has served as mayor for most of the past two decades.
Duterte also said communist figures would be considered for cabinet posts.
Sison, now 77, fled to Europe soon after peace talks failed in 1987.
The communists armed wing, the NPA, 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 Philippines.
Communists killed three soldiers in the central Philippines on Saturday, according to the military, in the first outbreak of deadly violence between the two sides since Duterte’s election win.
Duterte is due to be sworn into office on June 30.
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, said he was even willing to comply with the communists’ demand to release their captured members.
“If I am satisfied we are dealing in good faith, I will consider releasing all political prisoners,” he said.