Although the Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte won’t take office until June 30, he has already begun holding peace talks with Maoist rebels that were put on hold Tuesday in Oslo, Norway.
Currently, there are over 500 political prisoners in custody in the Philippines, including an estimated 19 rebel negotiators, according to Reuters. Their rebel insurgence has been one of the longest in Asia, starting in the 1960s.
“We will recommend the release of all political prisoners to Duterte once he assumes the presidency and both sides will work for an interim ceasefire to boost the formal resumption of peace talks in the third week of July in Oslo,” said Jesus Dureza, the new president’s peace advisor.
An agreement was signed on Thursday by negotiators promising to formally resume peace talks in July once Duterte takes office, and an official plan can be established.
During the presidential election, Duterte promised to end all rebel insurgencies in the Philippines islands, which includes the Maoist rebels and a more violent clash with Islamist rebels that has lasted 47 years, claiming the lives of 120,000 and displacing 2 million people.
Back in 2014, the Philippine government signed a bill to grant the Muslim insurgents their own autonomous region in the southern part of the country.
“For generations, fellow Filipinos in the (southern Mindanao) region were embroiled in a cycle of poverty, injustice, and violence,” then Philippine President Benigno Aquino said when signing the first agreement establishing the autonomous region. “If we are to truly address the root causes of conflict, we must close the gap between the region and the rest of Filipino society.”
Peace talks with the communist rebels, however, ended four years ago because the former president of the Philippines decided not to free any political prisoners, including those who were part of the negotiating team that had been arrested. Duterte is the first president to be elected from the southern part of the Philippines, and was the former mayor of Davao City.
Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison told the Associated Press, “There are no red flags yet. We were engaged in some kind of opening moves, in what you might call a chess game.”
According to Dureza, the peace talks will resume once Duterte takes office, and the two sides have agreed to maintain the previous agreements and address social and economic reform as well as a ceasefire and amnesty for both sides.