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Military intransigence in the peace talks

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Military intransigence in the peace talks

In the dynamics of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the defense-military camp is as intractable as it has been since 1986. Growing into a political force since the Marcos era, the camp is a key player with which both the government and the NDFP negotiating panels lock horns.

On April 6, the two panels agreed in a joint communiqué in the Netherlands on the release of prisoners and on the framework of a joint interim bilateral ceasefire. On the safe release of four prisoners of war of the New People’s Army, the Armed Forces of the Philippines rejected the NDFP’s request for a cessation of military operations—a move that goes against the government panel’s intent as a confidence-building measure. Since February, the NDFP request for a stop of military operations to facilitate the captives’ turnover had been denied.

The defense-military camp’s divergent position presages rough sailing for the peace talks that the negotiating panels have agreed to fast-track. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año have backtracked from all-out support for President Duterte’s peace program to, quoting the AFP spokesman, batting for local peace talks—which is incompatible with the government panel’s national-level engagement. The two men tag the NDFP as “terrorist,” but the government is resolved to have the label removed by a foreign government.

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Meanwhile, the defense-military camp has contradicted the President’s policy stance to end US war exercises in the country. Lorenzana said the exercises would just be scaled down to disaster and humanitarian missions. But last week, he said the Balikatan would proceed as scheduled next month in Ormoc to include antiterrorism exercises.

With Año heading the AFP, the defense-military camp’s clout extends from the Lorenzana-led Cabinet security and peace cluster, which includes as members former AFP chief Hermogenes Esperon, Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza and the interior secretary. In an ideal setup, both defense and national security are led by civilians to ensure balanced and objective policymaking and security strategy subject to presidential approval.

The dissonance posed by the defense-military camp is nothing new as it has held a hardline stance since 1986. The government’s negotiating tack often echoed the military line, which ranges from capitulation of the armed Left to local peace talks in a vain effort to split and weaken the NDFP. Military intransigence has contributed to the frequent scuttling of the peace talks.

The defense-military perspective is that the armed Left poses the main security threat. The military solution remains preeminent despite the inability to break the NPA’s backbone despite relentless US-backed anti-insurgency operations since 1969.

Trained in the war culture, the defense-military camp is least expected to discern the ramifications of the social, economic and political reforms being addressed by the peace process. Its myopic view of reform is limited to arms modernization and salary hikes, which the executive branch delivers without fail. Comprehensive socioeconomic reforms—a critical point in the peace talks—will abolish feudalism and industrialize the economy. This clashes with the military tradition of defending elements of the status quo, like landlordism, corporate greed, and other oligarchic interests that the peace process seeks to rectify.

The NDFP’s roadmap tries to meet the requirements of the peace process within Mr. Duterte’s term—an interim ceasefire, agreements on socioeconomic reforms and political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities, and disposition of forces. Both panels see bright prospects of forging a lasting peace. But hope must be tested by some conditions, compromises, and flexibility. These include military institutional support for peace and setting the mechanisms to enforce a final peace accord amid the expected backlash from Congress, military groups, and elite forces.

Mass members of the military and police should also claim the peace process. Many of them are from low-income classes who will gain from the free land distribution, job-generating industries, and other institutional reforms guaranteed by a final peace agreement.
Bobby Tuazon is a policy analyst, peace advocate and book author.

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TAGS: Government, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP, Peace talks
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