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Compelling reason for continuing GRP-NDF peace talks

12:04 AM March 15, 2017

What could be the compelling reason for the peace talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) to resume as soon as possible?

As soon as the NDF in late August last year reciprocated the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire declaration, President Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines moved several battalions from “NPA areas” to Sulu, Lanao Sur and Basilan. Yet, Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)-aligned groups there proved resilient despite the higher military pressure.

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The Davao night-market bombing has been conclusively attributed to the Maute-Isis group. And the President knows too well that there are scores of Isis bombing teams scattered all over the country, from as far north as Cagayan province and Baguio City to Soccsksargen in the south. The Abu Sayyaf-Isis groups in Basilan and Sulu have even intensified their attacks on foreign commercial vessels plying our southwestern corridor.

The stigma of the Davao bombing still haunts us, especially the President, in whose backyard the bombing occurred and the victims, survivors and their families still call for explanation and, of course, justice. More bombings of this type are therefore expected should President Duterte and the military fail to neutralize the vectors of extremism.

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The military knows it cannot effectively address simultaneously the New People’s Army’s insurgency and the Abu Sayyaf and the Isis-aligned groups’ terrorism. Such is the import of an all-out war against the NPA while maintaining pressure on the Abu Sayyaf-Isis. The Armed Forces of the Philippines will be overstretched and eventually lose as a result of fighting both fronts in the long term.

It is therefore necessary to set priorities. The military has, in fact, not opposed the release of almost 500 NDF-allied political prisoners just so it can support the peace talks and, more importantly, so it can buy time to finish off the extremists based in Moro areas.

The accusations and counter-accusations about violations and victims of each party’s unilateral ceasefire are, to me, insignificant and could have been and can still be considered collateral damage in a war where peace talks were suspended and where previous bilateral agreements were almost forgotten. After all, the NDF, even if allowed to recruit unhampered under conditions of a ceasefire, cannot overthrow a popular Duterte government within the next five years.

Clearly, it is to the interest of the majority of Filipinos, including those in Moro areas, that the GRP-NDF peace talks resume ASAP.

We, the people caught in-between, should insist that the peace talks continue along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and a bilateral ceasefire between the GRP and NDF. This is the package that can bring back the now-stalled peace talks on track. The release and the bilateral ceasefire were on the agenda of the peace panels before they exchanged charges and countercharges of the alleged violations. This should be the package that millions of Filipinos should demand from President Duterte and the NDF.

Is this too much to ask for? No.

Let’s get back to the bigger and more relevant frame.

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GUILLERMO B. LAZARO JR., Rafael Palma Lodge No. 147/ Bud Daho Lodge No. 102, Grand Lodge of the Philippines

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TAGS: ceasefire, letter, Letter to the Editor, National Democratic Front, NDF, opinion, Peace talks
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