The ‘other’ peace
Last Saturday’s dramatic capture of the Tiamzons, the husband and wife at the helm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, should create the momentum needed to restart the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front. If only to bargain for time, the NDF can return to the negotiating table. And the government is undeniably in a superior negotiating position; with the success of the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front sealed in a ceremony today, and Benito and Wilma Tiamzon in police custody, it can return to the talks if only to press its advantage.
As things stand, however, a restart, or even a new start, does not seem likely. Blame the twinned mindsets of denialism and triumphalism. The last is especially debilitating.
In the Netherlands, the NDF’s chief peace negotiator described the Tiamzons’ arrest as all but throwing a spanner into the works. It “most seriously prejudices the peace negotiations,” Luis Jalandoni said—an understandable reaction if taken in isolation, and a position straining credulity when taken in the context of CPP founding chair Jose Ma. Sison’s much-publicized statement that the NDF would wait for “the next president” before peace talks could resume.
This denialism pales in comparison, however, with the triumphalism displayed by various military officers in the wake of the Tiamzons’ arrest. For instance, the public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, taunted the New People’s Army, the CPP’s armed wing which Benito Tiamzon also headed, with a snarky greeting for its 45th anniversary on Sunday: “Happy anniversary. We have arrested your No. 1 and No. 2.”
Again, this is understandable if taken in isolation, but in the context of an interminable insurgency, hardly the unanswerable punchline it projects itself to be. The NPA has lost its commanders before—and yet here we are, counting down to the 50th anniversary of the communist insurgency.
It is precisely the length of the communist insurgency that convinces us that the military option, no matter how brilliantly executed, can never be the solution. A just peace is the only real and lasting answer. Given all the false starts and raised hopes of earlier attempts at peace negotiations, we welcome any return to the negotiating table—whatever the pretext, whatever the circumstance.
It is troubling, then, to see President Aquino’s adviser on the peace process confess publicly to almost a sense of futility. “Certainly it does not look good—that this process, which has been going on for far longer, has delivered so little in terms of milestones in the peace process and has delivered nothing in terms of improving the lives of people on the ground,” Secretary Teresita Deles told reporters the other day.
To be sure, Deles reiterated the government’s official policy of continuing openness: “Our position remains the same… We would like peace talks to resume on the basis of a clear, doable and time-bound agenda.”
And yet, in contrast with Deles’ (well-deserved) optimism about the final fate of the Moro secessionist movement, her pessimism about the future of peace negotiations with the NDF is palpable. And we worry that the boisterous jingoism in the military camps will not only feed her pessimism, but also make military action more attractive, more reasonable, to others in the Aquino administration.
The MILF and the CPP-NPA share something in common: Their leaders are aging.
The communist insurgency is led by men and women who qualify for senior-citizen status. Benito and Wilma Tiamzon are in their sixties; party founding chair Jose Ma. Sison and NDF chief peace negotiator Luis Jalandoni, both in exile in the Netherlands, are in their seventies. If the MILF leaders could turn the burden of the weight of the passing years into a leverage for peace, perhaps those of the communist movement can, too.
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