Chance for change under Duterte
Conditions for forging peace with the armed Left exist today. President Duterte appears firm to strike a peace agreement with the National Democratic Front, which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, toward an inclusive government.
First articulated in the election campaign, the socialist-leaning President’s call for inclusivity has led to his appointment of members of the Left to posts in his Cabinet. This act shows his willingness to adopt progressive programs, such as genuine agrarian reform, jobs and housing instead of doles for the poor, and an end to labor exploitation. The Left is reciprocating by supporting his propeople agenda.
Government peace adviser Jesus Dureza and longtime negotiator Silvestre Bello met the NDF led by its chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison in Oslo for exploratory talks last June 14-15. The two panels agreed on the affirmation of previous agreements, acceleration of the peace talks centering on key issues, immediate release of NDF consultants, reconstitution of the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), and grant of general amnesty to 500 political prisoners. They also agreed that an interim ceasefire will jump-start formal talks late this month, and that within a year deals on socioeconomic as well as political and constitutional reforms will be followed by an end to hostilities and disposition of forces. Mulling such a scenario, Bello said last week a good life for Filipinos would be ensured: “Ang sarap ng buhay ng Pilipino pag nangyari yun.”
The NDF is “optimistic” but “guarded” on the peace prospects, according to Fidel Agcaoili. For 30 years, peace talks between the government and the Left have been incremental and inconclusive, with the two sides trading accusations. The government charged the NDF as double-dealing by using the peace talks as a tactic to gain armed strength. Peace advocates said spoilers were sabotaging the talks. Government hardliners sought to lock the peace talks in a capitulationist policy for the NDF and an indefinite ceasefire regardless of the negotiations’ outcome. Sison, the CPP and NPA were included in the US “terrorist list” in 2002 and later in the EU list upon then President Gloria Arroyo’s request. Her request was suspected as a means to force the NDF to cave in or enter into an indefinite ceasefire without agreeing on the substantive agenda.
The refusal to respect 10 peace agreements signed during the Ramos administration was unmistakable when then President Benigno Aquino III rejected the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration as “a document of perpetual division.” Also put on the back burner were the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Jasig, which protects peace negotiators on both sides from surveillance, arrest and other punitive actions.
But for the first time, there are bright prospects for the 47-year civil war with countless lives lost to be resolved in a negotiated political settlement. The new trust and confidence in the resumption of peace talks stems from Mr. Duterte’s choice of peace over war, so that, in his words, the money spent for bullets will go to food, with an inclusive administration embracing all rebel groups. A belief in socialism that guarantees equal treatment of all, particularly the poor, and decades of political association with the Left seem to define this new President’s political will to end the
But none has a higher stake in the peace process than the people themselves. The Marxist revolutionary struggle of peasants, workers and other social forces is borne out of structural social and economic roots and the class divide that legitimizes power for a few and perpetual marginalization for many. This institutional disorder lies behind Philippine underdevelopment: The state is weakened by elitism while mass poverty, unemployment, and social injustice bedevil the many, thus the loss of public trust in authority. These are the breeding grounds of corruption, trade in illegal drugs, gambling, and other crimes. Drug lords may be eliminated, but the conditions that spawn narcopolitics will stay.
Whether one agrees with its ideology or not, the NDF provides the platform for just and lasting peace that can be enabled by a peace agreement. In reviving formal talks this month, both panels face the most disputatious agenda: economic and social reforms. The NDF’s 12-point program includes genuine agrarian reform to put an end to landlordism, national industrialization toward a self-reliant economy, and a progressive social policy. Another thorny issue is an independent foreign policy that demands the termination of all unequal treaties with the United States.
The peace talks have seen rough times, but all presidents since 1986 have been compelled to negotiate with the Left not only due to the futility of ending the rebellion by force but also because its cause has withstood the test of times from a dictatorship to elite regimes. The people’s war, based on NDF figures, rages in 71 provinces with one company operating in each of 110 guerilla fronts, or a total armed strength of at least 10,000. The government’s failure to address the roots of rebellion continues to fuel armed revolution.
There is no alternative to the attainment of peace now except through a political negotiation that will correct historical injustice and bring about structural reforms. The political will that exists should translate to ensuring that the government—including its security forces—stands behind the new President. If this also means a purely elitist rule metamorphosing into a real inclusive and progressive administration, then there’s a chance for change, as activists say. Just peace opens limitless possibilities of inclusive growth.
Bobby M. Tuazon is a former chair of UP Manila’s political science program and is CenPEG’s director for policy studies.
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