Viewpoint

Yesterday’s ‘apparatchiks’

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Contrast is a compelling tutor. Compare the track records of talks for peace by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Both were intractable insurgencies.

In Sultan Kudarat, the MILF, World Bank and United Nations signed “Fasttrac,” or “Facility for Advisory Support for Transition Capacities.” Based in Cotabato City, this three-year project will pool skills, training, research and expertise for the MILF and the government. That’s needed in dismantling the flawed Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In the ARMM’s place, they’ll cobble Bangsamoro in southern Philippines. The priority agenda item is to craft a “basic law” that embodies the aspirations of communities across the new body, noted MILF chair Al Haj Murad. “Fasttrac” follows President Aquino’s creation of a Transition Commission in December 2012. The commission is now fully staffed.

These steps stanched the bloodshed. Over 150,000 died in Mindanao fighting. Conflict gutted the island’s potential to be the nation’s breadbasket. “We must learn to live together as brothers,” Martin Luther King wrote. “Or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

In contrast, the bid to end the 44-year-old communist insurgency has collapsed. U-turns by the National Democratic Front “killed” the Netherlands talks, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

NDF leaders proposed, in December 2012, a “special track”: a draft declaration on peace without preconditions. But last February, the NDF jettisoned its own initiative. Instead, it lobbed in three new documents. It’d backpedal into the old “regular track,” which has been floundering for over 27 years now.

The government should free detained consultants, the NDF demanded. In addition, programs like Pamana, Oplan Bayanihan, plus the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program should be scrapped.

The CCT will bail out 3.5 million poor families this year, the World Bank reports. These grants allow kids to stay in school (96 percent attend classes) and get health checkups, etc. Seven out of 10 mothers have medical attention. Now, the commissars in Utrecht would dump these kids and moms.

“Are we talking to the right people?” wondered government negotiator Alex Padilla. Do local communist leaders agree? Or is there a disconnect between communist leaders here and those half a world away?

The President thus seeks a “new approach.” The government may instead pursue localized peace. It wants “time-bound and agenda-bound” talks. That’d enlist the help of local leaders and civil society groups.

The CPP fielded 26,000 armed men at its peak. “People Power” reforms here, party internal purges and sleaze interlocked with the collapse of communism worldwide. These whittled down the rebels to less than 4,000 today…

The party “withered and splintered,” Australian National University’s Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet wrote in the Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR). Ideological quarrels and policy disagreements, after Edsa I toppled Marcos’ dictatorship, “contributed to splits and splits-within-splits. These persisted into the 2000s.”

Studies in Mindanao, Negros, Nueva Ecija and the Cordillera found that most guerrillas and supporters “have neither been CPP members … nor seekers of a communist-run state.” Some sought redress from abuse. Most struggled for rights to land and humane living conditions.

Some guerrilla groups, in recent years, peddled protection in exchange for cash and other payoffs. “Customers” range from corporations, gambling and drug syndicates, government agencies and large landowners, the PHDR notes.

Rebels torched an AlterTrade truck, blocked its exports of sugar and bananas, after the Bacolod company bucked a P30-million “tax.” In the Bontoc peninsula, members of the New People’s Army backed landlords who coughed up “taxes, instead of defending farmers,” wrote the Inquirer’s Solita Monsod. Viewpoint dubbed this drill as “Have gun, will travel.”

There’s no mention of a “permit-to-campaign fee” in the NPA apology for its attack on 78-year-old Gingoog Mayor Ruth de Lara-Guingona and companions, wrote the Inquirer’s Randy David. “But that is what this is about.” Indeed, the Guingona assault came at an NPA roadblock collecting “revolutionary taxes,” the Inquirer’s Conrad de Quiros pointed out. “The NPA calls it tax, everybody else calls it extortion.”

These unelected collectors fleece “taxes” wherever their guns reach. They decide who to clip, how much, when and how. They make no financial reports. “Taxpayers” have no say on how their pockets are to be picked. Dissenters are clobbered with truck burning, equipment wrecking, even salvaging.

Time and history meanwhile moved on.

Despite a Manila May 1 rally displaying posters of  Marx, Stalin and Mao, communism is in history’s dustbin. “It is glorious to be rich,” Deng Xiaoping said. Aging rebel leaders Jose Maria Sison and Luis Jalandoni (a Dutch citizen) wage a “people’s war” by fax, Internet and Twitter from the comfortable ramparts of Holland. Why not from North Korea? critics snipe.

The National Democratic Front’s contact with, let alone control over, NPA units in backwaters here is tenuous and crumbling. The loot from “permits to campaign” are not shared. The collapse of peace negotiations means the CPP remains black-balled in the roster of terrorist organizations kept by the European Union, United States, and allies.

The compelling tutor is contrast. Step by painful step, into plough shares by the MILF and the government. There are fewer widows. Evacuees are returning, farms cleared of mines, and kids flock to school.

That, too, can be within reach for the CPP—only if it moves beyond yesterday’s apparatchiks  and today’s hammer-and-sickle bagmen out for lagay.

(E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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