AMSTERDAM—Exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison on Friday said he was willing to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte either in Oslo, Norway or Hanoi, Vietnam—not in the Philippines—for the signing of an interim peace agreement, which both sides are still trying to hammer out for next month.
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) proposed the Vietnamese capital as a venue in “consideration of the heavy work schedule” of the president, Sison said.
The “original plan” earlier agreed upon by government and NDFP negotiators during back-channel negotiations, he said, was “to have Duterte attend the Oslo ceremony for the signing of the Interim peace agreement.”
But the government panel, he said, “backed out” and offered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to attend a signing in Oslo instead.
The government side rejected the Hanoi proposal, he said, and the special envoy of Norway, which serves as third-party facilitator, “cannot make any arrangement” there as well.
“For my soonest possible interface with Duterte, the NDFP has considered my meeting at the signing of the interim peace agreement,” he told ABS-CBN News from his home in Utrecht.
“But Duterte has insisted that the meeting be in the Philippines.”
Sison earlier told ABS-CBN News that the signing was expected to take place on June 28 following substantial developments in informal talks in Utrecht since April.
But he denied Duterte’s announcement that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder had agreed to return to his home country during the 2-month window imposed by the president to complete the peace talks.
“I have always declared that I will return home when substantial progress is already achieved in the peace negotiations and my comrades and lawyers are satisfied with the legal and security guarantees,” he said.
Packaged in an interim peace accord, he said, are a ceasefire deal, amnesty proclamation for political prisoners, and an agreement on agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialization and economic development—key components of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.
Sison said a “premature return” to the Philippines would run counter to a previous agreement to hold talks in a “foreign neutral venue.”
“I would also be placing myself and the entire peace negotiations in the pocket of Duterte and at his mercy,” said the 79-year-old rebel leader, who has been on self-exile in The Netherlands since 1987.
“Any peace spoiler or saboteur would be able to destroy the entire peace negotiations by abducting or harming any NDFP panelist or consultant.”
Duterte on Thursday threatened to “kill” Sison if peace talks failed, a statement his one-time college professor played down as a “term of endearment.”
“It seems to me that in using strong words, he is eager to resume the peace negotiations rather than to block them,” he said.