Finding a way forward in the protracted peace talks between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF has become so elusive that many Filipinos have wearied of every government effort to talk, and every profession by the communist side of its desire for peace.
Take the word war that has ensued over the postponement of the peace talks. It’s disappointing to see the two sides engaged in name-calling.
Upon postponement of the talks due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration that the negotiations should be held in the Philippines instead of Norway, CPP founder Jose Maria Sison immediately said that the delay is “unacceptable.”
Sison called President Duterte “whimsical and foolish.” He urged the NPA forces to renew “the people’s war” against the government.
The government side, which includes the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), returned fire, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana) calling Sison names such as “spoiled brat,” who is “out of touch with reality.”
Consider how US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un broke the ice after they exchanged insults. A year ago, Trump called Kim the “rocketman,” and Kim called Trump a “dotard.”
Oddly, it was only after they abandoned the names of abuse that US-North Korean relation began to move forward, culminating in the successful Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last week.
At this crucial time in the protracted talks between the Philippine government and the communist group, both sides should learn a step or two from the Trump-Kim summit turnaround. They should move away from the essentially irrational practice of calling each other names.
It should not matter much who or what recently delayed the talks if both sides are truly earnest in their desire to hold formal negotiations to end the decades-old communist insurgency in the country.
The government has raised the need for an “enabling environment” for holding the peace talks. Peace process adviser Jesus Dureza said the government has decided to delay the negotiations with the communist rebels, citing the need to consult the public first.
President Duterte has expressed his belief and proposal that the Philippines should be the venue of the next round of peace negotiations with the communist insurgents.
This has won support not only from the AFP, but also within much of the government. In Congress, the Senate minority has been prominent in expressing support for the idea of the peace talks being held in the Philippines and not in a foreign country. Notable among the expressions of support was the endorsement by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon.
Drilon, who is rarely to be found on the side of the administration, boldly declared: “I support the President’s decision. It’s about time we changed the venue of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front [NDF]; it is time that these took place on Philippine soil.”
Drilon believes that the Philippines hosting the peace negotiations can boost the confidence and sincerity of both parties in the peace process.
By agreeing to hold the peace talks in the country, the communist groups will be able to show that “it has truly agreed to recognize the legitimacy of the government as the duly-constituted authority,” Drilon added.
Suggesting that holding the talks at home will denote recognition by the communists of the legitimacy of the Philippine government is not likely to win the support of Sison and other communist rebels. Sison has lasted this long as a communist leader by being inflexible.
But it is precisely inflexibility, as well as a lack of imagination, that has effectively doomed the talks to failure.
Let’s see if Sison will grasp the fragile opportunity for peace that is on offer today.