Joma Sison: Ousting Duterte is top priority for 2019

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 2) — Communist rebels are open to resuming peace negotiations in 2019, but overthrowing the Duterte government is their top priority.

This is according to communist leader Jose Maria Sison, Chief Political Consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represents rebels in talks with the government.

"The NDFP is authorized to be open to peace negotiations with the current and prospective regime of the reactionary government but its principal work now is to work for the ouster of the Duterte regime," Sison said in a statement Tuesday.

Sison in 1968 founded the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which aims to overthrow the government and replace it with a "national democratic" state.

President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration is the sixth to talk to the CPP in a bid to end its five-decade armed struggle, walked away from the talks in November 2017, after repeatedly accusing rebels of violating their unilateral ceasefire.

For Sison, however, this only shows that the government is not really serious in pursuing peace negotiations. "What he wants is the impossible, which is the surrender of the revolutionary movement of the people," he said. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a December 28 briefing said peace talks should resume only if the rebels would renounce their armed struggle.

The government also wants to declare the CPP and its armed wing, New People's Army (NPA) as a terrorist group, but this bid is still pending before the court.

Sison said rebels anticipate things to get worse under the Duterte leadership.

READ: CPP hits 'vast' military powers under Duterte 'regime'

"The Filipino people expect that this year, 2019, the socioeconomic and political crisis of the ruling system will worsen and that the Duterte regime will not solve or soften but will even aggravate the crisis by imposing heavier taxes and causing the prices of basic goods and services to rise further," Sison said. He also reiterated that the Duterte government would use a de facto or proclaimed nationwide martial law to control the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, the NPA will launch more attacks against government forces, Sison said, in response to the extension of martial law in Mindanao until December 31, 2019. Two Army soldiers and 12 militiamen were taken hostage by the NPA in Agusan del Sur as part of its ramped-up offensives.

For the first time in three years, the Duterte government did not reciprocate the NPA's unilateral ceasefire for the holidays, as Lorenzana said a truce would only give rebels a chance to catch government troops off guard.