Keep talking, please

Nobody wins when peace negotiations collapse–not the rebels, not the government and most especially, not the people. It is vital for both the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front to maintain the peace table, and find ways to regain common objectives to keep moving it forward.

The Philippines has one of the longest insurgency problems in Asia. It has kept many villages frozen in time, with hardly any new business coming their way. Most of these conflict-affected zones are agrarian communities, scarred with injustices passed on from generation to generation.

Their economic liberation can only come from one source: genuine peace.

With the election of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, hope soared on the peace front. He personally knew Joma Sison. The founders of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were his friends. Every extemporaneous speech delivered the same refrain–he abhors conflict and would do everything possible to bring about genuine peace on the negotiating table radiating outwards to every rebel stronghold.

Over the weekend, President Duterte announced that the Philippine government was terminating the peace talks with the communist rebels. “I am not interested in arguing with them,” the President told the media. He lamented that peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF may be impossible to obtain within this generation.

This is truly unfortunate because both parties were, initially, making the right moves.

Within his first six months in office, President Duterte had appointed nominees from the NDF as members of his Cabinet, namely, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglungsod. The chair of the government peace panel with the NDF, former congressman Silvestre Bello III is the current Secretary of Labor and Employment.

This was a bold move that even the most conservative Filipinos lauded for its audacity. Why not give those who have been criticizing every administration from Marcos to Aquino a chance to serve? So far, these Cabinet appointees have demonstrated their willingness to be good allies of the President and the very poor.

With the scuttling of the talks, will these appointees give up their positions? I hope not. For the streets are where noise is made but let’s face it, how many effigies can really take the place of a private conversation with the President? I believe that the presence of these NDF-nominated officials in the Cabinet would continue to enrich high-level discussions about anti-poverty programs, especially in the countryside.

The NDF is an organization steeped in the art of propaganda. They wouldn’t have lasted this long had they not been persistent, if not excellent, in selling their ideology, and connecting to enough voters, especially in the hinterlands, to land seats in Congress. Now they are faced with a President who is just as good, if not bolder, in strategic and tactical communications.

In the current propaganda war, the President is winning, hands down. For one, the decision to lift the ceasefire last Wednesday did not even come from CPP founder and chief peace negotiator Joma Sison. It emanated from a certain Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, a spokesman of the National Operations Command of the New People’s Army. The failure of President Duterte to release all political prisoners was given as the main reason for the NPA’s lifting of the ceasefire, which shall commence on February 10, according to “Ka Oris.”

What is urgent is for the social protection and anti-poverty programs of our government to take root and flourish in old and new conflict-affected areas. Let us prepare for the bloodbath to follow, and cut the ropes of social and political injustice that have made peace a rare commodity in the countryside. If the NDF and its parallel units are not prepared to give up the ideological battle in favor of genuine peace, then so be it.

Government must not be seen as giving up the war to end injustice.

Emotions are high, and wounds run deep, as both sides bury their dead. Somehow, both parties must find their way back to the peace table. The people are tired of violence and the disruption that comes with it. We cannot be a country constantly weighed down and interrupted by bursts of gunfire between our own citizens for an ideology that no one now really needs to kill or die for.


Manila Times Link: Keep talking, please

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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