Fading hopes for peace
On Sunday, the government panel withdrew from the fifth round of the current cycle of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front, leaving the fate of the on-again, off-again peace talks uncertain.
Government negotiators made clear that the withdrawal was merely from the fifth round, not from the cycle itself. Special envoy Elisabeth Slattum, representing the Norwegian government which has been brokering the talks, offered the same view. “The peace talks have not been canceled and the peace process remains intact.”
But if the new obstacles on the road to peace prove to be insurmountable, the reasons will not be hard to find. While we are among the many who support the negotiations and recognize the new momentum brought to the talks by the new Duterte administration, we, like others, are also aware of developments since the negotiations resumed in earnest, and these developments have the potential to harden, rather than soften, lines and positions.
The “opening statement” read by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza at the start of what would have been the fifth round identifies seven factors or “serious challenges” behind the government panel’s withdrawal, but the most important is “the blatant publicly announced decision” of the Communist Party of the Philippines “ordering their forces on the ground to accelerate and intensify attacks against the government in the face of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.”
There has been some back and forth in the media and on the two parties’ websites on this, whether the order to intensify attacks was provoked by a statement from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that martial law is “intended” in part to attack the NPA (something vigorously denied by Lorenzana), or the order was a direct response to the declaration of martial law itself. CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison accepted the clarification and said the NDF will call on the CPP to reconsider its order.
Here is one of the reasons why the new obstacles are increasingly difficult to surmount. The CPP has modified its view of President Duterte. For only the second time in its history, the CPP held a National Congress from Oct. 24 to Nov. 7, which essentially formalized the transition of the party’s leadership from the founding generation represented by Sison to a new generation of relatively younger cadres. As its communique proudly pointed out, of 120 delegates, “around 30% were above 60 years old, while around 60% were in the 45-59 years age bracket, while 15% were 44 years and younger.” Also: “More than half of the newly-elected [Central Committee] members are from the young and middle-aged cadres of the Party.”
From all indications, these relatively younger cadres have a more skeptical view of President Duterte, see his embrace of the Marcos family as a warning sign, and understand his continuing courtship of the military as a danger. Dureza also mentioned another serious challenge: CPP-NPA-NDF leaders “have no control over their forces on the ground,” he said. Sison’s call for the CPP to reconsider its order can be understood as the latest proof of this lack of control.
But some of the new obstacles were put up by the Duterte administration itself. The continuing campaign against illegal drugs has been marked by its blithe disregard for human rights; some of the most established human rights groups working in the Philippines are either associated with the organized Left or have worked with it — since the Marcos years. The Left has been relatively quiet over the campaign’s human rights violations, but it has not been deaf or blind.
The declaration of martial law itself is another high hurdle. In response to the clarifications issued by the government, the CPP released a second, stronger statement: “Not only is Duterte’s martial law against the NPA, it is against the people in general.” And then, to make things clear: “The imposition of martial law in Mindanao will have negative implications in the ongoing NDFP-GRP peace negotiations. As Duterte’s martial law is against the people, it is imperative for the New People’s Army … to take action to oppose and fight it in order to defend the people’s rights and interests.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.