MANILA, January 6, 2003 (STAR)  By Benjie Villa  - The founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said yesterday the rebels are hopeful the Arroyo administration will negotiate and pursue peace talks with the mainstream communist movement in the wake of strong support shown in proposals to establish a "government of national unity."

Exiled CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison said rebel leaders are taking the calls of administration leaders for all the country’s political forces to join together under a unity government "as a manifestation of Mrs. Arroyo’s desire to concentrate on social and economic problems, and to seek national unity."

Mrs. Arroyo has declared her withdrawal from the 2004 presidential elections to focus her efforts in uniting the country in the last 18 months of her administration.

Sison said this, in effect, convinced rebel leaders that they "see a glimmer of hope that (Mrs. Arroyo) is now more inclined than before to engage in peace negotiations."

Sison, however, claimed that even the last 18 months of Mrs. Arroyo’s administration will not be enough in uniting the country’s political forces.

He explained the severity of conflicts among political forces, compounded by the present economic crisis, will make it impossible for national leaders to establish the proposed national unity government.

"On the contrary, the contradictions among reactionary factions are already sharpening under the strain of the severe domestic and global economic crisis," Sison said.

As far as the rebel movement is concerned, Sison explained that the proposal to create a government of unity could be addressed through the National Democratic Front (NDF) in resuming the peace talks.

Sison said rebel leaders "welcome at face value Macapagal-Arroyo’s announcement of her desire to concentrate on social and economic problems, and to seek national unity."

"If (President) Macapagal-Arroyo were truly interested in overcoming divisions and promoting national unity, then it is appropriate for the chairmen of the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) and the NDF negotiating panels to contact each other for the purpose of resuming the GRP-NDF peace negotiations," he said.

Should the Arroyo administration decide to resume the peace talks, Sison made assurances that the negotiations can proceed smoothly if the US and allied foreign governments are dissuaded into branding the communist guerrillas as terrorists.

He said Mrs. Arroyo should ensure that the rebel negotiators, consultants and the rest of their staff should not be put "under the duress of being designated as terrorists."

"(The Arroyo administration) should frustrate the attempt of the US to sabotage the peace negotiations," he added.

Sison reiterated their demands for the government to adhere to all previous agreements the government panel had signed with the NDF panel and do away with the final peace agreement being drafted by Malacañang, which he described as a "document of surrender."

He said Mrs. Arroyo should also drop back-channel negotiations and resume formal talks with the NDF panel.

Mrs. Arroyo called off the peace negotiations last year after the NDF panel, representing the mainstream communist movement in the peace talks, refused to condemn the spate of political killings by the New People’s Army (NPA), the CPP’s armed wing.

Efforts to resume the stalled peace talks were further sidelined after the US government and allied European nations tagged the CPP-NPA as foreign terrorist organizations.

The government then pursued "back-channel" negotiations with European-based rebel leaders but these were shunned by the CPP-NPA-NDF.

CPP spokesman Gregorio "Ka Roger" Rosal said the rebel movement is willing to negotiate to end the 34-year insurgency in the country only by conducting formal peace talks with the government.

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