Move to brand Reds 'terrorists' may be withheld if talks resume - Roque

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The New People's Army is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 5) — The petition to formally declare communist rebels as terrorists may be held in abeyance should peace talks resume, the President's spokesman said.

"Pupwede namang mag-file ng manifestation ang gobyerno na iho-hold muna nila in abeyance 'yung petisyon na nakahain sa hukuman, pending the outcome of the peace talks," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a Malacañang media briefing.

[Translation: Government may file a manifestation asking to hold in abeyance the petition before the court, pending the outcome of the peace talks.]

The Department of Justice filed a petition with the Manila Regional Trial Court on February 21 tagging both the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA) as "terrorist and outlawed organizations."

"I think it will be withdrawn if there is a final peace agreement signed. But while the peace talks are ongoing, ang pwedeng gawin is diyan lang siya [it will remain there]," Roque said.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he is open to resuming talks with the rebels on three conditions: ceasefire deal, rebels will stop collecting revolutionary tax, and they will no longer seek a coalition government.

"We are awaiting their response to the government position that we're willing to resume peace talks, but subject to those conditions," Roque said.

The National Democratic Front (NDF) Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison said the negotiating panel is the venue to make demands.

Roque said the court cannot make the ruling on the terrorist tag without hearing and presentation of evidence.

"Hindi po 'yan [It is not] unilateral. There will have to be facts to be proven by the government. Hindi naman po 'yan uusad at magkakaroon ng deklarasyon na terorista sila habang di po natatapos ang presentation of evidence ng gobyerno," he said.

[Translation: It is not unilateral. There will have to be facts to be proven by the government. It's not going to move forward and the CPP-NPA would not be declared terrorists until government is not finished with presenting evidence.]

The cancellation of talks in November 2017 was the first in 18 years of on-off negotiations.

Still in status quo

Roque said while Duterte is open to resume talks, all orders against communist rebels remain in effect — including the detention of NDF legal consultants, who were released for the resumption of talks in November 2016.

A number of communist negotiators were detained since the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) — a 1995 deal on "free and unhindered passage" of individuals involved in the talks — no longer holds.

"Alam niyo naman po 'pag natuloy muli ang peace talks, magkakaroon sila ng 'free pass' na tinatawag, oo, JASIG para makapag-participate doon sa peace talks. At 'yan nga po ay ibibigay din ni Presidente kay Joma Sison mismo," Roque said.

[Translation: You know that if the peace talks push through, they will have a "free pass," the JASIG to take part in the talks. And Duterte will grant Joma Sison the same benefit.]

Roque also clarified the assistance the President plans to extend to communist rebels in exchange for their giving up the revolutionary tax, saying it is more of a "humanitarian" act.

"He will find ways to assist members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army by way of providing them livelihood and housing, if possible, provided that they cease and desist from collecting 'revolutionary tax'," Roque said.