In what is likely to be another contentious move, the government this week said that, since peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have stalled, it would now explore localized peace talks between local officials and the rebels, using seven guidelines as its framework.
Among the guidelines cited by Malacañang sources is that the negotiations must be “nationally orchestrated, centrally directed, locally supervised and implemented.” The talks must also be held in a local venue, and must be understood to make no concession to a coalition government or power-sharing, or to the collection of revolutionary taxes, extortion and other violent activities. The guidelines also propose full amnesty to rebels based on disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and integration into mainstream society.
Those who have been following the sporadic peace talks would know that most of the guidelines contradict previous demands made by the CPP, with localized negotiations itself being anathema to the group’s highly centralized leadership.
So, is there hope at all of salvaging the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the CPP’s negotiating arm, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which has plodded along and stumbled these past 32 years?
Peace talks between the two sides started in 1986 when, in the spirit of conciliation and in a bid to have a fresh start, then President Corazon Aquino released all political detainees held in Marcos’ martial law jails. The talks were meant to end what had become one of the longest insurgencies in the world, which has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives.
Settling the long-festering conflict between government forces and the rebel New People’s Army was such a strong yearning among ordinary Filipinos that, some three decades later, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte would anchor his presidential campaign on it. The self-described left-leaning leader promised to find a solution to the bloody war of attrition in the countryside should he win the presidency, a promise made credible by his unusual closeness to communist rebels in his home turf.
Leftist groups initially welcomed Mr. Duterte’s electoral victory, more so when he offered four Cabinet posts to the CPP as a sign of friendship and goodwill, and offered to go right back to the negotiating table with the rebels. The talks, however, soon floundered again on differences in ideology and seemingly recalcitrant demands from both sides.
The Duterte administration demanded an end to the NPA’s collection of revolutionary taxes and attacks on government soldiers, while the CPP wanted their detained comrades set free. The sniping from both sides hardly helped, with President Duterte describing the CPP and the NDFP as “criminals and terrorists,” and CPP chairman-in-exile Jose Maria Sison accusing Mr. Duterte of being the top terrorist in the country, responsible for the “mass murder” of drug suspects, among other crimes.
In what has become the government’s “carrot and stick” approach to the issue, Mr. Duterte alternately threatened to have the CPP’s negotiators arrested when they come home, while in the next breath renewing his offer of jobs and safe conduct pass to rebels who would lay down their arms and surrender.
Hopes that the peace talks would push through flickered briefly in April 2018, only to be dashed in June when the President insisted on a change of venue—from a neutral country as previously agreed on, to the Philippines, a condition flatly rejected by the NDFP.
It would seem that efforts to go back to the negotiating table are doomed, despite appeals from several lawmakers for the government to salvage the talks.
Prolonging the stalemate would only give “peace saboteurs” more opportunities to accomplish their task, warned Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Church leaders have spoken as well: Can the two groups at least explore all possible avenues to come together, if only “to reassess and revisit the principal inspiration” of the negotiations? People “must be our primary motivation in pursuing peace, not the two parties’ dissimilarities or their interests,” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.
Will the two parties listen? Both seem more at odds than ever, to the continuing detriment of a weary country long in search of peace and stability.
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