MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte recognizes exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison as the head of communist rebels in the Philippines, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Thursday, following his challenge to his former mentor to come home and have a one-on-one discussion.
Sison, however, said it was "not yet time" for him to return and instead offered to meet the President in "any country near the Philippines."
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Sison "cannot demand" that he and Duterte meet in a neutral country.
"Joma Sison should be elated by that development. We've been saying na he's no longer in control of the ground forces," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"The President wants him, ibig sabihin he's recognizing him as leader of his forces. Dati nga hindi na siya kinikilala eh, he should take that opportunity."
Duterte has given his "personal guarantee" for Sison's safety, Panelo added.
"If we talk and then we failed to agree on anything then you can go freely. Walang mangyayari sa'yo," he said.
Duterte fueled hopes of reopening peace negotiations with communist rebels earlier this month when he asked former chief government negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to speak with Sison, who is living in self-exile in the Netherlands.
The formal resumption of peace talks may begin early this year, according to Bello.