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New tone and terminology in handling communist insurgency

March 25, 2019

PEOPLE are not so sure which is sadder to behold: the permanent end of peace negotiations between the government and the communist rebels, or the dissolution of the government negotiating panel led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello.

In our view, it is fitting that President Duterte has declared an emphatic end to both because both signify a failed and costly initiative.

Both government and the communists must shoulder part of the blame for the failed peace effort.

The effort started with a bang when President Duterte made the dramatic decision to include representatives of the communists in his initial cabinet and administration.

But this show of confidence quickly petered out when CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison failed to reciprocate with an earnest that the communists would be willing to end their armed struggle against the government.

In the subsequent negotiations, the communists were more intransigent and demanding than conciliatory. They made demands for communist leaders in detention to be released so they could serve as consultants in the talks.

The government negotiating panel for its part did not look prepared for a hard-nosed eyeball-to-eyeball meeting with the communist panel. The government’s position appeared to come out in stages, and only in the end did it present what it considered as the acceptable outcome from the talks. President Duterte appeared to shape the government’s position by butting in.

Now, the government wants to shift the peace process entirely to localized talks, and to exclude Sison from the conversation.

According to national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., this means the Chief Executive has completely shut the door to any “interventions or persuasions” regarding the CPP, its armed unit the New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The government will focus instead on localized peace engagements.

Esperon said there is no need to pursue talks with Sison since the socio-economic causes he has been fighting for are already being delivered by the Duterte administration.

It was in November 2017, that President Duterte issued Proclamation 360 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA over the insurgents’ continued offensives against government forces and private installations.

A year later, in December 2018, the President signed Executive Order 70 directing the creation of a national task force that will spearhead a whole-of-government approach to “end local communist armed conflict.”

The change in terminology is significant. The talk is now about the end of the insurgency. It is not about peace the platitude.

Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., deputy chief of staff for civil military operations (J7) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said Mr. Duterte’s move is the right path because the communists only took advantage of the peace negotiations to regroup and strengthen their ranks.

“This is only proper,” he said. “Thirty-one years of deceptive ploys using peace talks, across five administrations, only resulted in more terrorist NPA being released, an opportunity for the CTG (communist terrorist group) to recruit and recover lost areas of influence, publicity for Joma in the international arena as a ‘dove’,” Parlade said.

Talks with Sison only resulted in “wasted government funds spent for negotiations and junkets, opportunity losses for investments and development because of prolonged and intermittent fighting, politicians kowtowing with NPA for survival, especially during elections but leaving the government empty-handed.”

Sison, for his part, never showed a semblace of control over the local insurgents still actively operating in the country.

As government strategists began testing the new approach, Sison declared that Duterte was just being “delusional.”

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