Communist party founder: Duterte 'sabotaged' peace negotiations

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

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — Communist leader Jose Maria Sison eyes the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte whom he accused of "sabotaging" the peace negotiations.

In a strongly worded statement titled "How Duterte Sabotaged the GRP-NDFP Peace Process," Sison said Duterte seems "mentally unfit" to handle the peace talks, and called on the President's Cabinet and military officials to evaluate if he deserves to keep his post.

"GRP officials in his Cabinet and the reactionary armed forces should consider whether he is mentally fit for his office or needs to be replaced in accordance with their 1987 Constitution," Sison said, referring to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Sison is the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represents rebels in talks to end their 48-year-old armed insurgency. This is the longest-running armed struggle in Asia.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the government's chief peace negotiator with the communists, said there's no truth in Sison's statement.

"Those are very unkind words coming from chairman Joma Sison. Hindi po totoo 'yan (That's not true). The President is in his right mind. His decision is based on factual and legal basis," Bello told CNN Philippines' Balitaan on Friday.

Duterte issued Proclamation 360 on Thursday, formally ending on-off negotiations with the communist rebels. This is the first time in 18 years that peace talks have been terminated.

Read more: Duterte formally ends talks with Reds

"Mula't mula pa nagpakita naman ang ating pangulo ng sinseridad. Ang daming good will gestures ang pinakita sa kanila. Lahat ng mga kahilingan nila binigay (From the start the President has shown his sincerity. They were shown good will gestures. The rebels' requests were granted)," Bello said.

But all the government got in return were frequent attacks from the New People's Army (NPA), the communists' armed wing, and extortion activities, Bello said.

He said the government is sending the rebels a formal notice of termination of the peace talks, which will take effect 30 days upon receipt.

Despite the termination of peace talks, Bello said the President will continue to pursue just and lasting peace for the country.

"Nandun pa rin yung advocacy niya for lasting peace (His advocacy for lasting peace is still there). I don't think the President has abandoned that. Ang gusto lang makita ng ating Presidente ay 'yung sincerity ng other party (The President just wants to see the sincerity of the other party)," Bello said.

'Duterte sabotaged talks'

But Sison reiterated the NDFP's stand accusing Duterte of leading the peace talks to an impasse.

Sison said Duterte's public pronouncements against the rebels and the peace process violated a mutual agreement "that talks would be discreet until there would be good news to announce at the end of the fifth or sixth round of formal talks."

Duterte on November 18 said he is determined to consider the communist rebels as terrorists and criminals, after the death of a four-month-old baby and two other civilians in a November 9 ambush in Bukidnon.

Read: Duterte to declare NPA as terrorist group

The President should have submitted his complaints to the Joint Monitoring Committee, composed of peace negotiators from the government and the NDFP, said Sison, who lives in exile in the Netherlands.

The NDFP has filed complaints against the government for human rights violations under the military's "ceaseless all-out war policy Oplan Kapayapaan," he added.

"These violations are far worse in scale and severity than those alleged by Duterte against the NPA. And yet NDFP never threatened to terminate the peace negotiations," he said.

The NDFP did not ignore the government peace panel's proposal for a stand-down agreement prior to a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, Sison said, adding that Duterte was lying.

Sison said the fifth round of peace talks was set to resume on November 25 to 27 in Oslo, Norway.

But Bello said he was not aware of this schedule.

The Norwegian government has been serving as third-party facilitator in the peace talks since the 1990s.

What's at stake?

Sison said unilateral and bilateral meetings of the government and rebels' peace panels have been successful - but all these would be put to waste.

He said they already came up with a common draft agreement on the general amnesty and release of all political prisoners, which tops the rebels' concern.

Prior to the suspension of talks, a series of technical meetings also resulted in draft documents on agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development, and social and economic reforms, all seen to benefit millions of Filipinos, Sison said.

A draft agreement on coordinated unilateral ceasefires was also in the works, Sison said. A truce has been elusive as the government and the rebels accused each other of violating their own unilateral ceasefire.

Peace talks under Duterte

The Duterte government is the sixth administration to talk with the NDFP in a bid to end the communist movement's armed struggle.

Duterte, a self-described left-leaning leader, brought renewed hope to a possible peace deal as he has reached out to the rebels even before assuming presidency. Formal peace talks began in August 2016, and have been suspended thrice until its formal termination on Thursday.

Duterte first declared the termination of talks on February 4, 2017, saying he considered the NPA as terrorists because they "were killing his soldiers" and violated their own unilateral ceasefire.

The peace talks resumed in April 2017, only to break down again in May.

The fifth round of peace talks were supposed to resume in August 2017, but Duterte ordered a stop to negotiations. The President said the government will no longer talk with communist rebels because of their continuing offensives.