The path to peace
Let us go back to the timeline.
Last month, after failing to cajole President Duterte to release some 400 “political prisoners,” the CPP-NPA-NDF negotiating panel withdrew the unilateral ceasefire they announced late last year. This was followed by a quick series of attacks on AFP personnel, using landmines. A young second lieutenant was killed in one of the attacks. Three members of an unarmed Army unit doing civic work were killed in Bukidnon, with NPA rebels announcing the Army fired first. Two soldiers were abducted and remain missing.
An exasperated President Duterte, understandably, found these attacks treacherous. He immediately ordered the AFP to lift its own unilateral ceasefire declaration and instructed the soldiers to prepare to wage war against the communist insurgency. A day later, the President escalated the government’s posture. He called the CPP-NPA terrorists and called for an all-out war. He apologized to his countrymen that there will be no peace in the meantime.
This is not the first time this happened—although it could be the last during this administration. In the middle of last year, the President did initiate a unilateral ceasefire as part of the confidence-building measures leading to the resumption of peace talks. After the communist guerrillas failed to meet the deadline to reciprocate, the ceasefire was promptly withdrawn. Only after frantic backchannel talks was the process resumed.
None can accuse President Duterte of lacking in good will. He did agree to facilitate the release of top communist cadres the NDF identified as being “consultants” to their peace panel. He broke bread several times with senior CPP leaders at the Palace and in Davao City. He spoke on the phone several times with communist leader Jose Ma. Sison.
In addition, the President appointed leftist personalities to his Cabinet to head the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Agrarian Reform, the National Anti-Poverty Commission, and the Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor. Several other leftists were entrusted sub-Cabinet positions, including one undersecretary of the labor department. No previous president yielded so much so quickly just so the
peace process could be restarted with an abundance of trust.
By contrast, the communists yielded nothing. They did not commit to halt activities that harmed rural-based enterprises. Nor did they commit to demobilization of their armed units as a concrete step to
ending the senseless violence that has been going on for nearly half-a-century.
Having won an arm, the communists wanted to take a leg. They wanted 400 convicts they prefer to define as “political prisoners” to be unconditionally released. They wanted the Philippine government to demand from the United States the lifting of the terrorist tag maintained on the CPP-NPA. Each time the negotiating panels met, it seems the list of demands presented by the communists effectively as preconditions to the continuation of the talks lengthened. This is why President Duterte called them “spoiled brats.”
The President did announce that he was amenable to releasing aging and sickly convicts on a case-by-case basis and with the participation of the courts. But there can be no release of convicts en masse. That amounts to an amnesty that should properly only come after a political settlement has been arrived at. Surely the AFP and the PNP, that spent so much effort to run after these prisoners and see through their prosecution, would be reluctant to an amnesty this early in the game.
Notwithstanding the government’s lifting of the ceasefire and effective suspension of the peace talks, the President chose to retain the Left-wing personalities in his Cabinet. They enjoy full confidence and no restrictions have been placed on whatever official meetings they attend. Sure there are many points of policy differences between them and the rest of the Cabinet. That is not unusual in a broadly represented presidential team.
The communists are appealing the suspension of the talks. Perhaps they should introduce confidence-building measures as well.