Not ideal conditions for peace talks

In the ongoing conflict with the Maute rebels in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, followed by an attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, the national government may have gotten so involved in the fighting with the Islamists in Marawi that it has not had much time to devote to the other problem posed by the other long-standing rebellion, that of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The NPA rebellion has raged for nearly five decades in various parts of the country mostly in Central Luzon in the 1970s, spreading to the Bicol region, then to Mindanao where it is most active today. President Duterte moved to solve the NPA problem at the start of his administration in 2016 with a series of peace negotiations hosted by Norway and the Netherlands. The two sides were set to hold their fifth meeting last May, but then the Islamic State-backed Mautes sought to seize Marawi City and President Duterte responded with a declaration of martial law in all of Mindanao.

At the height of the fighting in Marawi City, the President welcomed the support sent by the United States under our Mutual Defense Treaty. He said the major Moro organizations – the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) – would also be welcome to help the government repel the foreign-backed ISIS-linked Maute rebellion. He said the NPA would be similarly welcomed.

The NPA, through its political front, the National Democratic Front (NDF), and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has been involved in the negotiations launched by President Duterte. While it has supported the talks, however, it has continued to carry out attacks in various areas of the country, lately including Zambales, Cagayan, and Iloilo.

Early this week, Malacañang, through presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, said, “We are disturbed by the recent NPA attacks, considering that their leader in Europe issued a statement condemning the incident in Marawi.… These NPA attacks disrupt the conducive and enabling environment indispensable in peace-making and peace-building.”

The NDF in Davao City responded through its vice chairman Alan Jasmines, that the NDF stand is that both parties can continue with the negotiations for land reform, national industrialization, protection of the environment, free exercise of the people’s economic, social, and cultural rights, and economic sovereignty – “even as the fighting continues.”

These are less than ideal conditions for the holding of peace talks. We would expect more positive, more hopeful, more optimistic, and more open expressions from both sides. Nevertheless, we continue to hope that the peace talks which began with such promise last year will be able to resume soon and ultimately reach agreement that will end a rebellion that has continued intermittently all these years.

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