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