THE Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front is open to entering into a coalition government with the administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as they push for the release of 523 political prisoners, including CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma Austria, who is the group’s secretary-general and finance officer.
CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said discussions on the possible coalition government will form part of formal negotiations on political and constitutional reforms in Oslo.
“We are open to a coalition government. Why not, especially if the composition and program of the coalition government is satisfactory to the Filipino people?” Sison told The Standard in an interview from Utrecht.
“The program must be truly one for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, democratic empowerment of the working people, social justice, economic development through national industrialization and genuine land reform, a patriotic and progressive culture with expanded free public education and international solidarity with all peoples and progressive forces,” he added.
Sison said he cannot name yet the NDF officials who may join the Duterte administration since the peace negotiations have not yet resumed.
“However, I would like to point out that we have a lot of highly qualified people in the NDF,” he said.
Sison said the NDF is seeking the release of more than 500 political prisoners, including the Tiamzon couple who were arrested in Carcar, Cebu in March 2014.
“Duterte himself has said that he will pave the release of Benito and Wilma so they can participate in the peace process. The NDF is hopeful that once the formal peace talks begin, Benito and Wilma are already with us,” he said.
NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni earlier insisted that Benito, who has a P5.6-million bounty on his head, and Wilma, are covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).
“Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are NDF consultants who have fulfilled and are fulfilling highly significant tasks in the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF. Wilma Austria is holder of NDF Document of Identification ND978226 under her real name. Benito Tiamzon is likewise the holder of NDF Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed name Crising Banaag,” Jalandoni said.
Incumbent government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla, however, insisted that the two do not enjoy protection under the Jasig.
“The CPP-NPA is well aware of the effects of the failed verification. But they only have themselves to blame for rendering the Jasig inoperative for most of their alleged consultants. If indeed Benito was listed under an alias, he is no longer covered by the Jasig. Wilma Austria, on the other hand, jumped bail when she escaped from detention on Dec. 26, 1989, when there were no peace talks, and six years before the Jasig came into effect. This makes her ineligible for Jasig protection, even assuming she was identified in the Jasig list by her real name,” Padilla added.
Formal peace talks between the Aquino administration and the CPP-NDF-New People’s Army bogged down in February 2011 because the communist group has been insisting on the reactivation of the Jasig, a move rejected by the government after the original list, stored in an old floppy disk, got corrupted and could no longer be retrieved.
But incoming government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III said the Jasig can be reconstituted under a Duterte administration.
Bello, together with incoming peace adviser Jesus Dureza and incoming government peace panel member Hernani Braganza, will join Sison, Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoili in Oslo next week for a two-day exploratory meeting.
Sison said he expects to conclude three agreements—on the release of the political prisoners, an interim ceasefire and a plan to accelerate the peace negotiations—during the discussion from June 15 to 16.
“The interim ceasefire will take effect with the release of all political prisoners through a general amnesty until the successful conclusion of the peace negotiations. The formal peace talks will include a comprehensive and detailed agreement on the permanent end of hostilities,” Sison added.
Duterte has expressed his desire to end the nearly five-decade-long insurgency through a comprehensive peace agreement with the CPP-NDF-NPA.
Known to be close to the left, Duterte even announced his choice of progressives to join his Cabinet, including Judy Taguiwalo to head the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Rafael Mariano to head the Department of Agrarian Reform.
On Wednesday, Agcaoili said the NDF would no longer make junking the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States a condition for the resumption of peace talks.
“I have to criticize myself because in a press conference, someone asked me what is your non-negotiable demand—I said well it’s the presence of US forces. Now thinking about it, I think I was too forward. I don’t think I should have said that in first place,” Agcaoili said.
“If you go back to the statement of President-elect Duterte, he said he was against VFA and Edca. There is no need for a non-negotiable demand when there is already an imposition. No need to make demand when there is no need to make a demand,” he added.
He added that since the Edca was not a treaty, the chief executive could simply rescind it.
In the same press briefing, Agcaoili confirmed that preliminary talks will start next week in Oslo.
“We in the NDFP have been elated by the pledge of President Duterte to release all the political prisoners by general amnesty even before the start of formal talks if the preliminary talks prove to be successful. And we have expressed the willingness to achieve peace immediately in the form of a mutual interim ceasefire. We are ready to maintain the ceasefire and the peace while we carry out the plan to accelerate the peace negotiations,” he said.
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