Moving the Peace Talks Forward

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Is there a probability of the current peace talks achieving any palpable change beneficial to the Filipino people considering the diametrically opposed positions of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)?

The strategic line of the NDFP to achieve a just and lasting peace is by solving the fundamental problems of the Filipino people—namely, imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism—and putting an end to the violence of class oppression and exploitation through a people’s democratic revolution.  The NDFP believes that a just and lasting peace would result from genuine national freedom and social emancipation.

On the other hand, the GRP’s concept of peace is the pacification of the people and the suppression of all forms of dissent.  It uses reactionary violence to defeat and pacify the revolutionary forces and to preserve the oppressive and exploitative system.

Nonetheless, the NDFP has consistently shown willingness to engage in peace talks—as one of the arenas of struggle—to promote national independence and democracy and to push for basic reforms that shall benefit the vast majority of the people.

Achieving concrete gains in peace negotiations with the reactionary state was initially proven possible during the regime of Fidel Ramos, a West Point graduate and a known US puppet.  Almost all the critically important procedural agreements resulting from the peace talks were forged during the Ramos regime, such as The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Also forged was a landmark accord on the first substantive agenda in the peace negotiations—the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which was formally signed by the principals on both sides under the Estrada regime. Despite the prolonged suspension of the peace talks under the Arroyo and the second Aquino regimes, these agreements have not been invalidated—in fact reaffirmedunder the Duterte government.


Rise of neo fascists, rightist trend in the world

Meantime, the unresolved, debilitating crisis of the world capitalist system has been intensifying since it imploded in 2007-2008.  Imperialist powers barely staved off the collapse of the global financial system through the bailout of giant banks and financial investment houses. But the massive, expensive bailouts took their toll on governments as the world capitalist system reeled again, this time from a sovereign debt crisis by the end of 2009, which further worsened the crisis of the world capitalist system. Currently, both purveyors and critics of neoliberalism are predicting that a corporate debt crisis would soon plunge the world capitalist system deeper into crisis.

The crisis of imperialism has sharpened the contradictions among imperialist powers, between capitalists and the working classes and between foreign monopoly capitalists and oppressed peoples of the world.

Imperialist countries have been engaging in regional proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, and other North African states, and the Balkan states.  The US has tried and failed to assert its hegemony and this has intensified its contradictions with Russia and China.

Neoliberalism and the worsening economic and financial crisis have become an increasingly heavier burden on the peoples of the world, as foreign monopoly capitalists have been passing on the deleterious impact of the crisis on them.

Recent years have seen the steady rise of fascist parties and movements. Neofascist parties have been increasingly winning seats in parliaments in Europe.  The conservatives in Great Britain attained a problematic victory in the referendum for the Brexit on a strong anti-immigrant line.  The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential elections came as a shock even among the Democratic and Republican parties. But the Trump victory merely reflected the rightist trend in world politics—oddly spurred by the rejection of elite domination in both governments and the economy.

All these on top of the revisionist betrayal that once saw powerful socialist movements and countries turning to the right or taking the capitalist road.  Support for revolutionary struggles and movements in different parts of the world has subsequently waned.


Opportunities for peace under Duterte

The backlash of the revisionist betrayal and the consequent rightist drift in the world does not augur well for democracy, even of the capitalist kind.  Pushing democracy forward has become more difficult with the current international situation.

The victory of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a foul-mouthed maverick, in the 2016 presidential election was also viewed as an aberration in Philippine politics but not necessarily as a similar rightist drift. What it evinced was that the election was also viewed as an aberration in Philippine politics. The suffering Filipino people has had enough of trapo politics, corruption and criminality, and the crushing attacks of neoliberalism on their jobs and livelihood.

Although he has compared himself with Trump, Duterte is not exactly like the latter. On the one hand, Duterte has publicly declared his political affinity with the late dictator Marcos and his family, to the extent of facilitating the late dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. He has been severely criticized by a broad array of sectors, locally and internationally, for his deadly war against illegal drugs. He has shown intolerance for criticisms; and has, time and again, threatened to declare martial law.

On the other hand, Duterte has provided an opening for the struggle for fundamental reforms and the propagation of patriotic and democratic principles and ideas. He has declared his government’s desire to pursue an independent foreign policy, veer away from kowtowing to US interests, economic and foreign policy, and even threatened to rescind unequal defense and military treaties and agreements that the GRP entered into with the US. He has even declared that he is the first “leftist, socialist” president of the country.

Duterte has also demonstrated his willingness to engage in peace talks with the NDFP to address the roots of the armed conflict.

Coming from a long history of friendship and cooperation with the revolutionary forces and progressive mass movement in Davao, Duterte offered Cabinet positions to the NDFP, and has kept three NDFP-nominated Cabinet members and some sub-Cabinet officials. He also  immediately instructed a reconstituted government negotiating panel to push the peace talks forward and aim for a final peace agreement before his term ends.

However, war hawks in the administration, led by pro-US defense and military officials, soon began undermining the strides made in three rounds of formal peace talks in the first six months of the new government. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), for instance, aggressively pushed its counterinsurgency operations in areas under the control of the New People’s Army (NPA) after both sides declared separate unilateral ceasefires. The NPA consistently evaded engaging the AFP forces in combat. Although the ceasefires held for five months, the situation on the ground became untenable as to impel the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NDFP-NPA, after giving fair warning to the GRP panel, to withdraw its reciprocal unilateral ceasefire. The GRP armed forces waged vicious black propaganda and disinformation campaign to discredit the Red Fighters, to cast doubt on the sincerity of the revolutionary forces in the peace negotiations.

The peace saboteurs fed President Duterte with maliciously distorted information about the NPA violating its own ceasefire declaration. That pushed Duterte to peremptorily cancel the peace negotiations and even to publicly call the CPP-NPA “terrorists”. In no time, the nation was aghast as the Defense Secretary declared all-out war against the NPA. A month later, as he took steps to continue the peace negotiations, the President himself perplexingly egged on the AFP and PNP to use all their assets and “flatten the hills” with aerial bombings. The aerial bombings in rural communities led to new mass evacuations while AFP-led extrajudicial killings targeting peasant and national minority leaders greatly escalated especially in Mindanao.

Despite these, the NDFP maintained a principled stand. It defended the besieged rural communities. It criticized Duterte and his administration when needed, while pushing for the  continuation of the peace talks.  The NDFP believes that through the peace talks, its negotiating panel and a wide array of peace advocates can convince Duterte to take the side of the Filipino people and implement progressive reforms that will address issues pertaining to national sovereignty, democracy, social justice, development, education and culture and international solidarity—ultimately addressing the fundamental ills of Philippine society.

As of this writing, the peace talks have just concluded the fourth round of formal negotiations in the Netherlands.  The fourth round hurdled one thorny issue: forging an agreement on an interim joint ceasefire, which is expected to take effect upon the approval and signing of the guidelines and groundrules in time with the projected signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) before the end of 2017.

The interim joint ceasefire agreement shall be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (Final Peace Agreement).

More important is that the GRP and NDFP Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms agreed on the “free distribution of land” as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform. This is a major breakthrough, a giant step not only in the peace talks, but also in the road to peace as the principle of free distribution of land addresses the main democratic demand of the people’s democratic revolution. The next major items in the negotiations for CASER are agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD) and national industrialization and economic development (NIED).  Once agreements on these two major items are finalized, there is a high probability of forging the CASER by the end of 2017.

To follow are discussions and negotiations on political and constitutional reforms towards forging a Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), largely supplementing the CASER.

If the positive forces within the Duterte government could hold sway, the NDFP is confident that the CASER could be signed by the end of 2017 and the CAPCR could be signed by next year.  If the implementation of the CARHRIHL, CASER, and CAPCR would be successful for a minimum period of two years, the NDFP would be ready to sign the final agreement End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces before the term of the Duterte government ends.

But, if the pro-US war hawks within the Duterte government would be able to take control and frustrate the peace negotiations, then the CPP-NDFP-NPA would even be more relentless in bringing the people’s democratic revolution, through the protracted people’s war, to a new and higher level until victory and a just and lasting peace is achieved.


Freeing Political Prisoners: A Matter of Obligation and Justice

ESarmiento is Eduardo Sarmiento, a political prisoner and an NDFP peace consultant

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