ASEANews Headline: UTRECHT, Netherlands- First of two parts: Joma: Security cluster doomed peace talks BY DR. DANTE A. ANG

First of two parts
UTRECHT, Netherlands: Peace almost had a chance earlier this year in the course of the two-year negotiations between the communist group and the Duterte government after several failed attempts, until the security cluster sealed its doom. That is where the blame for the derailment of the talks lies, as far as communist leader Jose Maria Sison is concerned.

In an interview here, Sison, chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its political arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF) and armed unit the New People’s Army (NPA), accused members of the Security Council of opposing the signing of the initial document that was earlier agreed upon with the government, and for swaying President Rodrigo Duterte into suspending the peace talks. “Digong stopped everything habang pinagaaralan ang (while he was examining the) peace agreement,” he said, referring to the public statements of the President.

Dante A. Ang with Joma Sison in Utrecht.

To Sison, it was obvious that the President took the boast of Acting Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año and DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana seriously that they could employ a militarily solution to end the decades-long problem with the Left soon.

Sison laughed off Lorenzana’s brag that the military could wipe out the Reds. “Kaya naming ubusin ng military yang (The military can eradicate) or render the NPA irrelevant,” Sison quoted Lorenzana as saying.



For his part, Año predicted that the NPA would be eliminated by December 2018, while National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. reportedly agreed with the military solution, yet at the same time, “nakikipagusap” (negotiating), Sison added.

But Sison sneered at their cockiness: “Hindi kayang ubusin. Kailangan ubusin muna nila ang naghihirap. Yun ang nagbibigay ng fuel sa rebellion. (No, they can’t eliminate the armed struggle unless and until they eliminate its cause. They have to eradicate poverty first. Address the roots of the armed conflict,” Sison said in reaction to the duo’s bluster.

The CPP-NPA-NDF did not expect the President to unilaterally suspend the peace negotiations on June 15 a few days before the scheduled signing of the peace agreement on June 28.

Sison was skeptical of the reason advanced by Duterte for suspending the peace talks — “Habang pinagaaralan ang peace agreement yung provisions sa (While I’m examining the peace agreement’s provisions on) land reform and industrialization.”

The provisions on land reform and industrialization and the draft of the general amnesty program that should have been shown to the Left, as was promised by the government, never came, Sison said. “He is the commander-in-chief and whatever decision he comes up with, the military will follow.”

He also aired his misgivings, noting that just when the two sides were about to implement the stand-down agreement, the President decided to suspend the peace talks on June 15. Both parties had initialed the provisions for agrarian reform and rural development, the national industrialization and economic development, which should lead to continuing negotiations for an agreement on social and economic reform, Sison noted.
These two reforms should be enough for the communist leader to come back to the Philippines with a general amnesty for all political prisoners were it not for the “objection of the military,” he said.



Sison boasts NPA firepower

He did not give a specific number as to the actual strength of the NPA when asked. Instead he said the NPA had enough firepower to match that of the PNP and the AFP. In 1985, he said, the NPA had only about 5,600 members; during the term of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd it rose to about 6,100. Sison now claims the NPA has 110 guerilla fronts, with each front having an optimum strength of a full company of 90 to 120. That does not include the people’s militia in the various barangays and the self-defense organization units of our mass organization (Read: underground) based in the countryside.

The military estimates the NPA has between 4,000 and 5,000 armed rebels in the country.

Sison downplayed losing their camps to the military, saying only that “fluid movement naman yan. Yang kampo madali namang iwanan. Palipat-lipat lang. Sierra Madre yan. (Fluid movement is what’s required. Camps can be easily abandoned. You move from place to place — that’s in Sierra Madre). A camp is only used for planning offensives or short schooling.”



No capability to topple Duterte

Sison admits he believes the communist group in the country does not have the ability to topple the Duterte government by force and that the conditions for a regime change do not exist at the moment. “Bringing the Duterte government down will depend on the conditions of the workers’ movement. It is more difficult now than in the 1960s because of the changes in the international situation, but we are now in transition,” he said.

“The ouster of Duterte can only be achieved if there is a big public movement with the support of the military,” he stressed. “The CPP cannot do that. No plots with the LP and Trillanes,” he said, referring to the Liberal Party and Sen. Antonio Trillanes.

He denied any connivance between his group and the Liberal Party, as well as some members of the military, to topple the government. Earlier, President Duterte tagged the CPP/NDF/NPA “in connivance with the Liberal Party, some members of the military and Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th of plotting his overthrow.”

“Kalokohan (Nonsense)” Sison said, dismissing charges by Duterte that the communist leader was plotting his ouster in connivance with the Liberal Party, some members of the military and Senator. Trillanes. He also took exception to the accusation that he had any conversation with Liberal Party members.

Should these peace negotiations totally fail, he said give the communist group an allowance of 10 to 20 years. “That is not much,” he said. “We have to continue to fight and hope that the conditions would be better for a regime change.”



Sison supports Duterte’s national agenda

“I tried to establish rapport with Digong. The answer is a ceasefire. OK yung agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development,” Sison said, referring to the President’s national agenda for peace.

Peace is almost at hand. The two parties have initialed the first two provisions that should have led to the continuing negotiations for the agreement on social and economic reform, which should be enough “to allow Joma to go home with amnesty for all political prisoners.” But the military objected, Sison added, sounding dejected.

Sison, however, is still hopeful that the peace talks would resume soon and that a lasting peace would prevail all over the land.

(The second of the two-part series out tomorrow.)

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