By Roy Ramos and Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - A planned homecoming for the exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to meet President-elect Rodrigo Duterte faces a major hindrance -- the United States inclusion of the Maoist organization and its armed wing on its latest "terror" list.
Late Wednesday, Fidel Agcaoli, a spokesman for the party's political front told media that to travel from the Netherlands -- where Jose Maria Sison is in exile -- to Manila, he must pass by Taipei.
“If the U.S. will be a spoiler, Sison might be presented a warrant in Taipei by Interpol, [over] which the U.S. has control. Then the peace talks will be in kaput,” National Democratic Front (NDF) spokesperson told reporters in Davao City.
Agcaoli's fears were echoed Thursday by a group of Christian peace advocates, who urged the U.S. to remove the group from its list.
“If the United States cares, even an iota, for the peace of our nation and people, they will remove their ‘terrorist’ tagging,” the Davao Today newspaper quoted Pilgrims for Peace as saying in a statement.
The group said that the inclusion of CPP could impede members' travel, and thus make it dangerous for Sison to attend any activity related to the talks in the Philippines.
Duterte had previously announced the possible return of Sison -- his former university professor -- to the country as part of efforts to end the 40-year-old communist insurgency.
However, in a country report on terrorism released June 2, the U.S. listed the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), as “US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations” along with the Abu Sayyaf Group and regional affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah.
Sison has since accused the U.S. of sabotaging talks between Duterte's administration and the rebels by reiterating the terror tag.
In 1986, the now 77-year-old was released from prison by then Philippines President Corazon Aquino after the downfall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The Philippines military, however, opposed his release, and thereafter Sison fled to the Netherlands where he has since been in exile.
In 2004, peace negotiations collapsed after the communists withdrew on account of the renewed inclusion of Sison and the NPA on the U.S. terrorist list.
In 2014, negotiations failed again because outgoing President Benigno Aquino III turned down the rebels' demand to release detained comrades -- accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.
Agcaoili said Wednesday that the issue of the terrorist tag should be tackled seriously and that states should guarantee his safety and non arrest to ensure that peace talks will not be affected.
“There has to be some guarantees from the Dutch government, the Norwegian government, [and] the U.S. government to respect the sovereignty of the Filipino people in their desire to pursue a just and lasting peace without interference,” Davao Today quoted Agcaoili as saying.
The NDF chairman, however, said he doubted that the U.S. would agree to offer the guarantee, describing the world’s superpower as "always a bully”.
Preliminary talks between the NDF and the incoming Philippines administration have been scheduled in Oslo, Norway for next week, with Duterte saying he will send incoming peace process advisers Jesus Dureza, Silvestre Bello and Hernani Braganza to conduct the discussions.
Agcaoili said the agenda included the resumption of peace negotiations in accordance with previously signed agreements. These included granting general amnesty to political prisoners; an interim mutual ceasefire, and the possibility of accelerating negotiations.
In an initial meeting May 17, Agcaoili said that he and Duterte talked about the possibility of the president-elect and Sison meeting overseas.
He said that the draft for the acceleration of the process is almost similar to a draft submitted to the Aquino government in December 2014, and the timeframe for any settlement would be six to nine months.
"The moment that an agreement is reached, then fighting can cease,” he said.
Since March 1969, the NPA has been waging one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies in the country, which -- according to the military -- has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past eight years.
The military estimates that the number of NPA members has dropped from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s to less than 4,000.
Duterte is set to assume office June 30.