Behaving true to form, communist rebels ignored appeals from President Duterte and ordered their forces to intensify attacks following the proclamation of martial law in the entire Mindanao. The heightened attacks by the communist New People’s Army, supposedly in protest against the proclamation, were launched despite assurances from the government that the NPA was not the target of martial law.

The move compelled the government to suspend the fifth round of peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front, set in the Netherlands from May 27 to June 1. It was the second time that the talks were suspended. The first time, in February, the NPA said it would lift its unilateral ceasefire, and then killed and kidnapped government forces before the announced date of the lifting.

The NPA’s latest defiance indicates two possibilities. One is that the communists are not sincere in discussing lasting peace and are simply taking advantage of the peace process to strengthen their ranks. A democracy, after all, is not the communist ideal. The other possibility, already confirmed by two ranking rebels, is that the CPP-NDF leadership has no full control over NPA fighters. This begs the question: why is the government discussing peace with those who cannot guarantee control over their own group?

As of yesterday, the peace panels in the Netherlands were reportedly trying to untangle the snag. But whatever agreement they reach would be useless if the rebel negotiators cannot control their fighters in the Philippines.

This latest development should bolster proposals for the government to recalibrate its approach to peace with the communists. The initiative need not be abandoned, but the government should consider discussing peace directly with local cadres, understanding their grievances and the ideals that drove them to the insurgency. These could be different from the issues driving the rebel negotiators who have lived for many years in exile and have enjoyed the hospitality of some of the world’s most liberal societies.

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