Duterte says Sison agreed to return, but rebel leader sets conditions

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 25) — President Rodrigo Duterte said Jose Maria "Joma" Sison has agreed to return to the country, even as the communist party founder has set conditions for this to happen.

On self-exile in the Netherlands, Sison on Friday said he will only come home if there will be a major breakthrough in peace negotiations.

"Hindi basta-basta ako umuwi at ilagay ko ang sarili ko at entire peace nego sa bulsa at awa (mercy) ni Duterte at mga reaksyonaryo at militar na pumapalibot sa kanya. Dapat substantial progress muna sa peace nego bago mapag-iwanan ang foreign neutral venue na safe and convenient for the negotiators and consultants of both sides," he told CNN Philippines.

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 on Thursday said Sison has agreed to come home, and he is even willing to personally escort the communist leader.

"I have invited Sison to come home. He has agreed. I gave him a window of two months, very small. Make or break tayo dito. I will see to it and will personally maybe escort him to the airport 'pag walang nangyari sa two months. I will allow him to go out. I will not arrest him because word of honor 'yan eh," he said in a speech in Davao City.

Duterte also issued a warning to Sison.

"But sabihin ko talaga sa kanya, "P***** i** mo 'wag ka nang bumalik dito. Papatayin talaga kita." 'Pag walang mangyari, sabihin ko talaga sa kanya, "do not ever, ever return again to this country. I will kill you. You've killed so much of my soldiers and policemen. Dapat lang," he said.

Government and communist negotiators are holding backchannel talks for the possible resumption of negotiations, six months after Duterte called them off. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on May 8 said "informal backchannel talks" are now taking place in Europe, but did not specify the place.

Talks stalled in November 2017 after Duterte signed Proclamation 360 that terminated negotiations with the National Democratic Front, which represents communist rebels in peace talks.