‘A generation without peace’
In those matters within the scope of his political experience or legal expertise, President Duterte does not seem to recognize any middle ground. Either “drug personalities” are killed, or nothing; he has even said he regrets allocating government funds to pay for the rehabilitation of drug dependents. His relationship with communist rebels is the latest example of this either-or thinking.
The first President to style himself as a socialist, to justify giving public honors for a dead New People’s Army leader when he was still mayor of Davao City, to claim in public and before influential businessmen that “the Reds” would “die for me, believe me,” has now ordered an all-out war against them.
Last Friday, he lifted the government’s unilateral ceasefire against the communist insurgents, and told the Armed Forces: “Go back to your camps, clean your rifles and be ready to fight.” On Saturday, he ordered the government peace panel to pull out of the peace negotiations, telling the members to “fold up the tents and come home.” On Sunday, he pronounced the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front “a terrorist group.” And on Monday, a consultant of the NDF, released as part of the peace process, was arrested in Davao City.
Last December, in Malacañang, he had waxed expansive about the communist movement’s support for him. “The Reds would never demand my ouster. They will die for me, believe me. That’s the reason why I was able to convince them for a talk.”
Five weeks later, at the wake in Cagayan de Oro City of three soldiers killed in an encounter with NPA guerrillas, he gave vent to his feelings of resentment and mistrust. In a mix of languages, he said: “You show your good faith, and instead you are shamed by the response of the damned group. As if they were somebody. You give them all the leeway and you return to me a stupid [reply] … From now on, I will consider the CPP-NPA-NDF a terrorist group.”
What triggered the abrupt change? In a word, reality caught up with the President. A movement that was initially welcoming of him had trusted him to keep his promise to release all political prisoners; at the same time, the dividing lines in the movement, between younger rebels particularly in Mindanao and the older generation living in exile, had emerged in sharp relief. Dissatisfaction with the President’s handling of the issue involving political prisoners had gelled in the last few weeks; this led the CPP and the NPA to lift its own ceasefire, without withdrawing support from the peace talks. Fighting, however, resumed just hours after.
This is not the first time that the President has vented his anger on communist insurgents.
In his first State of the Nation Address last July, he announced a unilateral ceasefire in the military campaign against the NPA. A mere week later, he lifted the ceasefire; he charged the communist insurgents with bad faith, mocked their armed strength, called Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison “arrogant.”
Sison responded in kind, describing his former student as “volatile” and a “butangero” (a goon). But despite the harsh exchange, the fate of the first round of negotiations scheduled for August was never at risk or in doubt.
The situation today, half a year later, is much more problematic. The fate of the peace talks is now in limbo; NDF consultants released because of their role in the negotiations are now targeted for arrest; the defense secretary has vowed an all-out war; and even the President himself, who inspired so much hope that the longest-running communist insurgency will finally be resolved through a just peace, has thrown up his hands.
“So I really would like to express my sadness. We cannot have a peaceful generation. There will be always be a fight,” he said last week. “But let it not be said that I did not try. So I guess that peace with the communists cannot be realized during our generation. Maybe years from now.”
From peace partner to enemy.
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