MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte wants exiled communist leader Jose Maria Sison to return to the Philippines for a one-on-one discussion as the government pushed for the reopening of formal peace negotiations with rebels, Malacañang said Thursday.
Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the chief executive told him of the dare on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. The President, however, did not set a deadline for the meeting.
“The President is daring him (Sison) to come home to the Philippines and have a one-on-one talk with the President,” Panelo said.
“If he (Sison) really wants to show his sincerity then come home. He should not be afraid of his own shadow,” he added.
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 exiled communist leader however said it would be best if President Duterte showed “goodwill measures” such as releasing imprisoned communist rebels first before the insurgency movement considers returning to the negotiating table.
"I think there needs to be several steps before we could reach a point of having peace negotiations in the Philippines,” he previously told ABS-CBN News.
Panelo assured Sison that he would not be arrested should the latter decide to come home.
“If he is man enough, sincere enough he can come home,” Panelo said.
In a statement, Sison said although he appreciated the offer of the President, "it was still premature for him to go to the Philippines."
"Let the (government) and NDFP (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) negotiating panels work this out first in a neutral venue abroad for the benefit of the people, especially with regard to genuine land reform and national industrialization," he said.
"Nevertheless, I am willing to meet with President Duterte in a country near the Philippines," he added.
In November 2017, The President signed Proclamation No. 360 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the NDFP - Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army.
Barely a month later, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 70 directing the creation of a national task force to “end local communist armed conflict.” The order has been described by Sison as “the most comprehensive and the biggest obstacle” to resuming formal talks.
Both sides tried to resume the talks but Duterte and Sison had a falling out last year after the President accused rebel troops of continuing attacks against government forces despite the ongoing peace talks.
In March, the President formally terminated peace talks with the Reds, saying he would no longer entertain any “persuasions” from Sison’s group.