By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte has again held out an olive branch to the country's communist rebels, telling reporters that he will release all political prisoners if party leaders return from exile and sit down for peace negotiations.
Earlier this month he had offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) posts in his new government to smoothe the way to peace.
"All I need [for an answer] is yes or no,” Duterte said late Monday in his hometown Davao City.
He emphasized that returning home to talk peace will be his one and only pre-condition for the release of political detainees including couple Benito and Wlima Tiamzon.
The Tiamzons are considered top level officers of the CPP and its political front the National Democratic Front (NDF), was arrested in Cebu City in 2014.
Duterte called the release of political detainees a confidence-building measure between the government and rebels.
He underlined that the rebels themselves could stipulate when, where and how the process of their coming home would take place -- including exiled CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison -- and the talks would be conducted.
Sison, 77, currently resides in the Netherlands, after fleeing to Europe when peace talks with the Philippine government failed in 1987.
He stressed that the time frame would depend how events would develop.
Duterte added that there should be a workable plan to assimilate the Tiamzons back into society.
“I might even decide to free all of them before the talks [could formally start],” the state-run Philippines News Agency quoted Duterte as saying.
He said he would welcome them -- CPP leaders -- back if they believe his administration would work for everybody "especially for the poor."
As to the criminal cases filed against detained communist rebels, Duterte said it would be part of the pardon.
“For as long as we deal peace in good faith. [Talking] peace must be in good faith. I do not have an agenda just don't fool me,” Duterte said.
In his first press conference since winning the May 9 election, Duterte announced he would consider offering the CPP posts in the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF collapsed in 2004 after the communist withdrew from the negotiating table on account of the renewed inclusion of Sison and the CPP's armed wing, the New People’s Army, on the U.S. terrorist list.
In 2014, negotiations again failed 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.
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.