MANILA -- A face-to-face meeting here between President Rodrigo Duterte and Jose Maria Sison was in the works before the Philippine leader put off the resumption of formal peace talks, documents showed.
Based on the interim peace agreement, which was supposed to be signed during formal negotiations on June 28, both sides would form a “bilateral preparatory committee” to “lay the ground(work) for the visit” of Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Negotiators also agreed to “cooperate in facilitating the visit” to allow the 79-year-old Sison to “confer” with Duterte and “discuss the peace process and other matters,” according to a copy of the interim accord, which was obtained by ABS-CBN News from different sources.
Part of the agenda of the Duterte-Sison meeting was to “celebrate the conclusion” of the preliminary peace deal, and hold a “peace conference at the earliest time possible.”
But the homecoming of Sison, who has been on self-exile in The Netherlands since 1987, was still “subject to the necessary political, legal, security and technical requirements.”
Sison’s group is also listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, raising fears that he might be arrested while en route to the Philippines.
Details of Sison’s visit were also contained in the guidelines for the resumption of formal talks, which were agreed upon during backchannel discussions in Utrecht last June 9.
Veteran peace negotiator Hernani Braganza signed for the government side, while Fidel Agcaoili did so for his National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) panel.
The signing was witnessed by Ambassador Idun Tvedt, the Norwegian government's special envoy to the Philippine peace process.
Sison earlier told ABS-CBN News that he was expecting to return to the Philippines within the year, optimistic that substantial portions of the peace agreement shall have been signed by then.
Duterte on Thursday announced he was not ready to resume formal talks, which did not sit well with Sison.
The communist leader urged the negotiating panels to make public the documents signed during backchannel talks last June 9 and 10.
“It is starkly clear that the (Philippine government) under Duterte is not interested in serious peace negotiations with the NDPF,” he said.
“It is interested vainly in obtaining the NDFP capitulation under the guise of indefinite ceasefire agreements.”
Duterte announced the postponement of formal talks after government panel members apprised him of developments in the informal negotiations during a command conference in Malacañang on Wednesday.
Some security officials expressed reservations on the planned stand-down agreement and eventually, a more binding ceasefire deal, a source told ABS-CBN News.
‘BIGGER PEACE TABLE’
Signed last June 8 in Utrecht, the stand-down agreement is a “temporary cessation of hostilities” where both sides “shall not commit any offensive action or operation against combatants and civilians.”
The deal was supposed to be simultaneously announced by the government and the NDFP panels a week before the resumption of formal talks to create a “positive atmosphere conducive to moving forward and completing the peace negotiations.”
Duterte’s peace adviser, Secretary Jesus Dureza, on Thursday said formal talks would be postponed to allow the government to consult the public in the “bigger peace table.”
In a message to ABS-CBN News, Sison replied: “That is a lot of bullsh*t.”