THE EXILED communist leadership represented by Jose Maria Sison has made one thing clear in The Manila Times’ two-part exclusive report written by our Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante A. Ang: despite fiery rhetoric on both sides, the rebel leaders have not closed the door to restarting peace negotiations with the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Following his recent interview with Sison in Utrecht, the Netherlands, Dr. Ang reported that a breakthrough could have been achieved in the peace negotiations if not for the moves of the defense and military establishments to end the talks.
If Sison is to be believed, the Cabinet’s security cluster had convinced the President that a “military solution” to end the communist insurgency was more viable than talking peace and making political and economic concessions with the rebels.
As a result, President Duterte canceled the resumption of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which was set on June 28, 2018.
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The cancellation was supposed to pave the way for nationwide consultations to engage the “bigger peace table,” meaning the public, and elicit more support for the peace process.
We have, in fact, not seen any honest-to-goodness nationwide public consultation held by either side of the table; this lends credibility to the NDF’s earlier allegation that the announcement of public consultations was just a pretext to put the talks in the freezer.
For the Cabinet security cluster, it should be clear by now that a military solution is not the final solution, no matter what the real size of the Red army is (the military estimates it at between 4,000 and 5,000; Sison did not give a specific number when asked during the interview, but another source quoted him as saying it could be between 9,900 and 13,200, or more than double the size estimated by the military).
It seems the strategy now involves arresting all rebel leaders tapped to become NDF consultants; on Monday, Adelberto Silva, 71, was arrested with four others in Santa Cruz, Laguna. If this strategy really worked, the NPA should have been dismantled when Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the top rebel leaders in the Philippines, were arrested in 2014.
The theory that Sison told Dr. Ang about the communist cause had a ring of truth to it: “Kailangan ubusin muna nila ang naghihirap; (eradicate poverty first),” because hungry stomachs and politically marginalized voices continue to fuel the half-century-old rebellion. Sison’s thesis is simple, and not novel: address the roots of armed conflict through peace negotiations. Both sides have, in fact, reached a meeting of minds on agrarian reform and rural development, as well as on national industrialization and economic development, and they could have proceeded to social and economic reforms if the talks resumed as scheduled in June.
What was going for the Duterte administration was the introduction of federalism into the mix; Sison and his comrades, as Dr. Ang reports, see a political future under a new system of government. This is another opening that should be exploited.
Sison, however, needs to get real as well. What was left unaddressed in his one-on-one with our chairman emeritus was the egregious ceasefire violations committed by NPA rebels, who had no qualms attacking military and police outposts and killing uniformed men in the middle of the peace talks. These bloody attacks had forced Duterte’s hand and drained trust levels on both sides.
The talks cannot be expected to resume posthaste given the stalemate. At this point, both sides should launch into confidence-building measures, tone down or avoid heated rhetoric, and eventually reopen the backchannels.
What needs to happen is for both sides to meet in the middle before any hardening of extreme positions becomes permanent
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