Duterte tells NPA rebels they can join politics if they surrender

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The President's promises to rebels who would surrender: free housing, free land and a chance to enter politics. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 20) — President Rodrigo Duterte again called on communist rebels to lay down their arms, offering them benefits in return – including a chance to enter politics.

"Set down your arms and we will not have a problem. If you wish to join politics, okay lang (that's okay)," Duterte said in Bisaya during a speech at the launching of a mall in Davao City Friday night.

Duterte, a self-described left-leaning leader, appointed leftist officials to the Cabinet as he reached out to communist groups to talk peace at the start of his term. But peace negotiations have been called off and officials identified with the Left have either been fired, rejected by the Commission on Appointments, or have resigned.

The Duterte government is the sixth administration to try to end the five-decade insurgency waged by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People's Army (NPA).

Duterte reiterated that he and CPP founder Jose Maria Sison "will no longer talk," but urged "other communists" to talk peace with local government officials.

"If you don't want Sison to talk to me, 'di kausapin niyo si konsehal (talk to your councilor)," Duterte said.

The Duterte administration has pushed for localized peace talks amid the impasse in negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which serves as the CPP's political wing and representative in peace talks. As early as July this year, Malacañang said the President would sign an executive order spelling out the guidelines for localized talks, but this has not been released.

READ: CPP rejects localized peace talks, says Duterte 'pretending to want peace'  

Duterte assured the communists they will be given free housing the moment they turn themselves in.

"Surrender. The government has a program. You'll be given a house automatically," Duterte said.

He added that in Davao City, presidential daughter Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has built 5,000 houses for those who would turn their backs on the armed struggle.

Duterte also reiterated his promise to give away idle government lands to the poor and members of the NPA.

"I will give away all government-owned lands that are of no use to us. I ordered the Secretary of Agrarian Reform to distribute government-owned lands to the people and even the NPAs," he said.

The distribution of free land is among the social and economic reforms the rebels demand from the government.

Duterte has said he would push for land reform "with or without talks with the communists," but an executive order to this effect has not yet been signed.