Gov't wants PH as venue of peace talks with Reds

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(L-R) Pres. Rody Duterte, Joma Sison

Updated to include quotes from Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 18) — President Rodrigo Duterte prefers to hold peace talks in the country even if Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Joma Sison warned the venue change could mean the end of peace negotiations, Duterte's spokesperson said Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the discussion will be between Filipinos so there is no need to go overseas just to talk peace.

"Let's just say as far as the President is concerned, venue matters. He does not understand why we should continue talking in Norway. Pare-pareho naman tayong Pilipino. Bakit kailangan lumayo pa?" he said in a media briefing.

He added if peace talks will be held in the Philippines instead of Norway, there may be no need for a third-party negotiator.

"Wala na po siguro, nandito na naman tayo sa Pilipinas. Pero you know any party who wants to help and who's been involved in the process can help," Roque said.

Roque later clarified, however, Norway may still act as a third party facilitator of the peace talks.

"Norway can continue to help the Philippines as a third party facilitator of the peace talks, as I mentioned during this morning's press briefing," Roque said.

"We hope this sets the record straight that what I said is any peace negotiation that would be entered into by the Philippine government and communist rebels should be held inside the country. I was referring to the venue," he added.

Norway is the third-party negotiator in the peace talks between the Philippine government and CPP's political wing, National Democratic Front (NDF).

Roque said the money to be spent for negotiations in Norway could be put to better use in providing for the needs of the CPP-NPA while the peace talks are ongoing.

However, hours after the media briefing, Roque clarified his statement.

"Norway can continue to help the Philippines as a third party facilitator of the peace talks, as I mentioned during this morning's press briefing," he said.

The Presidential Spokesperson claimed he was referring to the venue, saying the talks need not be held in Norway.

"We hope this sets the record straight that what I said is any peace negotiation that would be entered into by the Philippine government and communist rebels should be held inside the country," he said.

Sison, who is on self-exile in the Netherlands, said in a statement Duterte is "willfully and maliciously killing the peace negotiations" by breaking the agreement between the government and the NDFP on holding the talks on a foreign neutral venue and by dismissing the third party facilitator.

"[Duterte] knows very well that the NDFP will never submit itself to surveillance, control and duress by his bloody regime and his military and police butchers and death squads," he said.

Sison has said he will only come home if there will be a major breakthrough in peace negotiations. Among Sison's conditions - a signed ceasefire deal, amnesty for political prisoners, and a signed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. He also wanted an assurance on his safety.

Duterte previously said he is even willing to personally escort the communist leader. But also issued a warning to Sison that he will personally kill the CPP founder if peace talks come to a halt.

The government on June 14 said formal peace talks between the government and communist rebels will not resume on June 28 as earlier announced by Sison. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the negotiations in Oslo, Norway would "not happen as originally set and as originally announced by the media" as more consultations with the public were needed.

No stand-down agreement?

After several media organizations obtained copies of the stand-down agreement between the Philippine government and the CPP over the weekend, Roque insisted there is no such thing.

"As far as I'm concerned, we still have to subject it to authentication and vetting... Wala pong stand-down agreement," he said.

Dureza on Sunday even thanked them for publicizing the document.

According to the signed "stand-down" agreement, both parties would "take an active defense mode, and shall not commit any offensive action or operation against combatants or civilians."

The document also warned armed troops and personnel from either side against acting in a manner that could be considered provocativeb or hostile.

Included in the agreement is a condition for the protection of civilians and their property. A member from each side was supposed to be assigned to a panel that would coordinate on issues related to the implementation of the deal.

The accord was signed on June 8 in Utrecht, the Netherlands by government panel chair Silvestre Bello III, along with Hernani Braganza, and Angela Librando-Trinidad. NDFP panel chair Fidel Agcaoli, and members Julieta de Lima and Asterio Palma signed for the other side.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.