MANILA— Exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison agreed to return to the Philippines as early as mid-August this year, said a peace panel consultant who cited “high expectations” on successful formal talks previously set at the end of the month.
The date of return was proposed by the government peace panel during backchannel negotiations in Utrecht, The Netherlands where Sison has been on self-exile since the late 1980s, said Rey Casambre, a consultant for the rebels.
“It would have been unprecedented,” Casambre told a news briefing Tuesday, but admitted the August date might have been “too early.”
Sison earlier told ABS-CBN News he was optimistic he could visit Manila within the year depending on the outcome of negotiations on substantive portions of the peace talks.
His said his return would depend on the “necessary political, legal, security and technical requirements” contained in a document signed by the two negotiating panels last June 9.
The same conditions — including the creation of a bilateral committee to facilitate Sison’s return — were included in the draft interim peace agreement, which was supposed to be signed during formal talks set on June 28 to 30.
Part of the proposed agreement was a face-to-face meeting between Sison and President Rodrigo Duterte to “discuss the peace process and other matters.”
Duterte had repeatedy invited Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to return home and continue negotiations here.
The president has postponed the planned resumption of formal talks, saying he needed more time to study the components of the interim peace agreement.
Casambre said it was still “technically” possible for Sison to return to the country by the second week of August despite the postponement.
But he said holding peace talks here was “non-negotiable,” citing the possible arrest of peace negotiators and consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.