President Duterte has made a 180-degree turn and called for the resumption of peace talks between Manila and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison has welcomed Duterte’s overtures, surprising some in the anti-Duterte united front.
Sison, who serves as the NDFP negotiating panel’s chief political consultant, said in a statement that “it is timely for (Manila) and NDFP to celebrate with the Filipino people the season of Christmas and the New Year and to create the favorable atmosphere for peace negotiations.”
Sison said both Manila and the NDFP can adopt and undertake “goodwill measures as reciprocal unilateral ceasefires and the release of political prisoners who are elderly and sickly on humanitarian grounds, especially those who shall participate in the peace negotiations.”
Nothing is stopping both parties from again declaring a joint or parallel ceasefire this coming Christmas and New Year holidays.
It is important to note formal peace negotiations stopped in 2017 when Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 formally cancelling the talks. Duterte has also signed on a number of anticommunist measures which the military has lapped up enthusiastically.
A lot has happened since.
Vicente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre, and other NDFP consultants have since been arrested and detained. A dear friend and also an NDFP consultant Randy Felix Malayao was murdered last year, as he slept onboard a bus en route to his native Isabela.
Military officials have gone on campus tours to tag legal, aboveground progressive organizations as “communist fronts,” while police forces have undertaken raids on the organizations’ offices in Bacolod and in Manila.
Duterte officials have also gone on a taxpayer-funded European tour to bring their Red-tagging and shopping sprees in a number of capitals. Without any factual or judicial proof, they went on to slander and defame an alphabet soup of international and domestic organizations.
In between, the military has been parading so-called New People’s Army (NPA) “surrenderees” by the hundreds, perhaps already outnumbering its estimates of the total fighting force of the NPA. Indeed, if the “surrenderees” were all genuine, there would be no one left in the NPA by now. The “surrenders” could only be understood in the context of the military’s craving for cash and other rewards from the corrupt state.
The NDFP’s readiness to talk peace has touched a raw nerve among some anti-communist factions of the broad anti-Duterte alliance, with diehard defenders of the previous administration claiming that such readiness betrays the communists’ support for Duterte.
But it is a matter of public record that the previous administration never formally talked peace with the NDFP. Or in other words, its officials didn’t even pretend to pose as peacemakers. Is it the NDFP’s fault that the current president would offer to resume such talks?
Since 1992, the NDFP has welcomed and accepted all of Manila’s invitations to hold formal talks. Not only has the NDFP been always ready with draft agreements and good staff work that surprise government negotiators and third-party facilitators, the rebel negotiators apparently don’t want to give any president the public-relations victory about being a peacemaker scorned by communists.
The NDFP’s readiness to talk peace with Duterte is admirable, because it reopens a new battlefield to engage a regime that has gone increasingly tyrannical and pro-oligarchy. If Manila and the NDFP agree to resume where they left off in 2017, the panels would soon be tackling “social and economic reforms,” and then “political reforms.” Or maybe simultaneously, if both parties would want to.
The talks would give the NDFP and the public the opportunity to challenge Duterte’s recent anti-oligarchy posturing against Manila’s water concessionaires. He has openly preferred to turn over the lucrative business to another oligarch loyal to the regime.
Workers would also be interested to know that “Endo,” the popular term for contractualization, is on the NDFP proposal for social and economic reforms. The NDFP seeks to bind Manila to an agreement that abolishes the practice.
The Reds are also expected to raise the plight of Filipino fisherfolk in the West Philippine Sea, and the exploitative practices of oligarchs and big landlords who profit from the regime’s pro-business and pro-landlord policies.
Come to think of it, Sison is practically in the same position as Vice President Leni Robredo was when Duterte offered Robredo to lead the anti-drug efforts. Many people, including many opposition leaders, warned Robredo against cooperating with Duterte or being an “enabler.”
Robredo surprised both the opposition and the regime by accepting the presidential appointment. True, the president dismissed her after only 18 days, but she emerged the political winner by calling Duterte’s bluff, demanding an end to extrajudicial killings, presiding over meetings, and demanding information on so-called high-value targets.
Sison and the NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili are set to follow in Robredo’s foot steps in what could be a last-ditch effort at peacemaking. Both are veterans of both the peace process and the revolutionary movement, and they are not about to allow themselves to be deceived and used.
All eyes are now on Duterte. He has to rescind Proclamation 360, order the release of detained NDFP consultants and political prisoners, and undertake other goodwill measures. He has to restrain the military officials lusting for more war funds and who are nursing the fantasy of a mass arrest of NDFP, NPA, and CPP leaders in their “wet dream” of having the rebel negotiators agree to hold the talks in Manila under the current political climate. Other more corrupt elements want Duterte to stop his “peace talks nonsense” and just give billions more to the generals to fight a war the military has miserably failed to win for the past five decades.
Duterte has to choose whether to seek peace or to merely pretend.
Published in Manila Bulletin, December 14 2019