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Peace Talks in Duterte’s First Year: Flagging Political Will and Consistency

in Mainstream
by Angel Balen

As he began his six-year term in July 2016, President Rodrigo R. Duterte set off a momentum for change by taking bold, dramatic moves and making definitive pronouncements in pursuance of his campaign cry, “Change is coming!”

However, towards the latter part of his first year in power the momentum for change has faltered.  He has tended more and more to backslide towards the Right.  Dragged and rendered as casualty in that flow and ebb were the peace talks of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (GRP-NDFP), which Duterte had vowed to resume, and to complete and begin implementing the substantive agreements (on social, economic and political reforms) within his term.

The formal negotiations resumed on August 22 in an atmosphere of amity and euphoria: the new president had caused the release of 21 NDFP consultants and staff, enabling them to participate in the talks. As regards the other 400 political prisoners, he had offered (in May before he took office)  to issue an amnesty proclamation to expedite their release.

The two parties reaffirmed the 12 previously signed agreements (from 1992 to 2004) and “resolved to conduct formal talks and consultations in accordance with said agreements” (Joint Statement, August  26, 2016).  They reconstituted the list of NDFP consultants given safety and immunity guarantees under the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) and completed the requisite guidelines to implement the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law).

Furthermore, they have agreed to accelerate the pace of the negotiations, setting up the necessary mechanisms and procedures, and made significant gains in three successive rounds of formal negotiations until the end of January 2017.  Then something happened that rudely interrupted the good things going on so well, as acknowledged by both negotiating panels.

“Moving the Peace Talks Forward,” the lead article of Liberation, January-March issue, pointed out the main factor that has since impeded the relatively smooth flow of the peace negotiations.  “War hawks in the administration, led by pro-US defense and military officials,” the article said, “soon began undermining the strides made in three rounds of formal peace talks in the first six months of the new government.”

The war hawks avidly exploited to their advantage an initiative by President Duterte (which they had probably suggested) that has turned into a problematic and troublesome element in the peace talks: his declaration on August 21 of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire.

In May 2016, when as president-elect he met with then NDFP emissary Fidel Agcaoili and committed to resume the long-suspended peace talks, Duterte did not at all speak of a ceasefire. Neither was a ceasefire declaration discussed during the June preliminary bilateral talks between his emissaries and the NDFP negotiating panel held in Oslo, Norway.  But when he delivered his first state-of-the-nation address in July, he announced a unilateral ceasefire, which he hastily withdrew because the NDFP did not immediately reciprocate with a similar ceasefire declaration.  It was explained to him later that the NDFP had waited for details on how the ceasefire would be implemented before issuing its reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declaration.

A day before the formal resumption of the peace talks, Duterte again declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire. This time the Communist Party of the Philippines  (CPP) and the NDFP responded by declaring their reciprocal indefinite unilateral ceasefire.


Devious plan

Absent mutually-agreed guidelines for implementing the reciprocal unilateral ceasefires, the war hawks moved fast to carry out their devious plan:  aggressively they pushed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP )counterinsurgency operations, misrepresented as assistance to government “peace and development” programs, in hinterland and rural communities under the control or influence of the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA).  Over five months, AFP intruded into and occupied 500 barangays nationwide, spurring complaints from the affected communities that the state security forces subjected them to threats, harassments, and other forms of abuses and human rights violations. The violations have been duly documented by the human rights monitoring organization, Karapatan (whose Secretary General is an independent observer in the Joint Monitoring Committee [JMC] under the CARHRIHL), and submitted to the NDFP panel.

Through those five months, the ceasefire held as the NPA consistently evaded engaging the intruding state forces in combat, thus evincing sincere adherence to its own unilateral ceasefire declaration. However, the CPP raised to the NDFP panel its complaints against the AFP’s persistent deceitful violations of the ceasefire.  On two occasions — Nov. 4, 2016 and Jan. 4, 2017 — the NDFP panel handed over the documented complaints to the GRP panel.

Having observed no change in the AFP’s actions, the CPP served notice to the NDFP panel that the situation on the ground was becoming untenable, and that soon it would withdraw its ceasefire declaration.  During the third round of formal talks (held in Rome in late January), the NDFP panel relayed that notice to its government counterpart, warning that the AFP violations were already endangering the peace talks.  On February 1, 2017, the CPP announced its ceasefire withdrawal.

Although he was apprised by the NDFP panel of the reason for the withdrawal, President Duterte angrily reacted to the maliciously distorted information fed to him by the war hawks about the NPA allegedly violating its own ceasefire. Peremptorily he cancelled the peace talks and in his characteristic blustering called the NPA “terrorists”.  Picking up from there, his defense secretary declared an “all-out war” against the NPA, egregiously tagging the NPA as “terrorists no different from the Abu Sayyaf”.


Back-channel talks

Within three weeks Duterte walked back on his cancellation of the peace talks, taking recourse in back-channel talks towards continuing the formal negotiations.  Perplexingly, he didn’t rescind the Defense Department’s all-out war declaration.  He even egged on the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) to use all their assets and “flatten the hills” (the presumed redoubts of the NPA) through aerial bombings and artillery bombardments.

That was not all he failed or opted not to do before the fourth round of negotiations began in April.  During the March 11 back-channel talks, the two parties agreed that upon resuming the cancelled negotiations each side would issue simultaneous and reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declarations. But according to his defense secretary, Duterte didn’t order the issuance of the GRP declaration.  Hence the NPA had no choice but to engage in self-defense and counter-offensives.

Thus the all-out war has continued to this day. And aerial bombings plus ground artillery barrages have become a feature of the state counterinsurgency forces’ mode of combat. This has caused recurrent large-scale evacuations of rural communities targeted by the bombings in Mindanao and other parts of the country. (Daily air bombings have also punctuated the AFP operations against the Maute group in Marawi City for more than three months now.)

We know who are the war hawks and main peace saboteurs:  Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, and other government officials in the Duterte Cabinet so-called security cluster. They have sustained black propaganda, aimed at discrediting the Red Fighters, casting doubt on the sincerity of the revolutionary forces in the peace negotiations, and impugning the credentials of the NDFP panel.


Fourth round of talks

The cabinet security cluster’s intervention delayed for two days the opening ceremonies of the fourth round of negotiations, held in The Netherlands. There being no ceasefire in place, they pressed the GRP panel to insist on placing in the agenda the negotiation and signing of a prolonged indefinite bilateral or joint ceasefire agreement ahead of the scheduled negotiations on a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). The NDFP panel rejected the proposal, saying it violates the previously signed agreements both panels had reaffirmed and agreed to comply with, foremost the four-point agenda set by The Hague Joint Declaration (1992), and the Joint Agreement on the Sequence, Formation and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (1995).

Nonetheless, the fourth round of negotiations concluded with positive results.

The two panels skirted the threatening impasse by crafting and signing an Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire, which provides that the guidelines and ground rules for implementation will be worked on by the panels’ respective ceasefire committees “in-between formal talks”.  No ceasefire can take effect until after the guidelines and implementing rules have been finalized, signed by the panels and approved by the principals of both parties.

Meantime, the reciprocal working committees on the CASER firmed up their agreement that distribution of land to landless farmers and farm workers for free is “the basic principle of agrarian reform”. (Agreement in principle on this matter was arrived at in the third round of talks.)

For the records, presidential peace adviser Jesus G. Dureza hailed the fourth round as “the farthest point we have already achieved in our negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF”.  And he stated that in his formal statement at the opening ceremonies.

But the cabinet security cluster didn’t find the agreement on an interim ceasefire suitable to them. At the scheduled fifth round of negotiations in May, they pressed on with their original proposal that the NDFP definitively had rejected.  Not only that.  They demanded that the CPP recall its order to the NPA for intensified tactical offensives against state security forces to manifest its opposition to Duterte’s May 23 declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao — which targeted the “dismantling” of the NPA.


GRP pulls out

Buckling to such pressure, the GRP panel announced it would not participate in the fifth round. That was a bad move—made worse by Duterte’s warning the NDFP consultants then in The Netherlands not to return to Manila as he would have them incarcerated. For a number of days both the GRP and NDFP delegations were stuck at the hotel venue, holding ad-hoc unilateral meetings, and taking walks in between free meals courtesy of the Royal Norwegian Government. Third party facilitator Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum tried, in vain, various means to get the two panels, or the reciprocal working committees, to sit down together even informally and discuss matters of mutual concern.

Of course, the peace saboteurs succeeded in obstructing the progress of the negotiations on the CASER because President Duterte permitted their scheming. He wanted to assuage the war hawks bent on wangling a prolonged bilateral ceasefire as a means to stanch the sustained growth in strength of the revolutionary forces, dreaming of pushing the latter ultimately into capitulation and pacification, as has happened in the cases of many peace agreements in other parts of the world.

The NDFP has made it clear it’s fully aware of the war hawks’ capitulation-pacification trap and does not wish to fall into it. Besides, putting in place a prolonged and indefinite ceasefire agreement before there are substantive agreements on social, economic, political and constitutional reforms, it emphasizes, will betray the trust of the oppressed and exploited masses, the intended prime beneficiaries of such reforms.

Similarly, Duterte wanted to placate the neoliberal clique composing his economic managers and the pro-imperialists in various government offices. They make no bones about their opposition to the social and economic reforms that are moving towards adoption in the peace negotiations—particularly the basic concepts and ramifications of a genuine agrarian reform program and rural development (ARRD) and of national industrialization and economic development (NIED).

Duterte made the hollow excuse that he has to consult many advisers, particularly the military — which he has been pampering with financial and other incentives. He claimed that he has no control on everything within his vast sphere of authority.   Thus he has become mum on his publicly-repeated commitment to accelerate and complete the peace negotiations on substantive reforms. Worse, he has reneged on his offer of amnesty for the 400 political prisoners identified in a list submitted by the NDFP panel.

Ironically, the President hems and haws just as the talks are beginning to produce results that open up opportunities for his “government of change” and the NDFP to work together in improving the dire living conditions of the people, particularly of the majority poor, which he has vowed to ameliorate.

In July, President Duterte had cancelled the back-channel talks between the two panel heads and their working teams on what should be in the agenda of the fifth round of formal negotiations, tentatively set in the latter part of August.


No mood for talks

In a long adlib portion of his second state-of-the-nation address, Duterte said he was no longer in the mood to talk peace with the Left.  He let out his recrimination over the NPA’s continued attacks on government forces and installations after he had declared martial law in Mindanao. Exaggerating an incident in Arakan, North Cotabato on July 20, he publicly claims the NPA planned to ambush him in one of his land travels through the region. “How can we talk when you’re ambushing me!” he blustered.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año

Of course, there was no such plan to ambush the President.  What actually happened was that the NPA had set up a checkpoint in Arakan to deliver a message: that under martial law, the NPA can set a checkpoint in an area it chooses along the highway, as it has been doing for years.

Coincidentally, two unmarked vehicles that the sentries had stopped to check on turned out to belong to the Presidential Security Group. When the driver of the first car sensed the odd situation, he sped through the checkpoint. In quick reaction, the Red fighters shot its rear wheels stopping the vehicle.  The second car also sped past the checkpoint.  Although it managed to get away, it met with a volley of gunfire that wounded four of the men on board.  After a while, the NPA unit left the area without harming the men who locked themselves inside the stalled PSG vehicle.


Will the peace talks continue?  

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Thus far the GRP has not made a formal written notification to the NDFP terminating the JASIG, which in effect would also terminate the peace talks.  The protocol calls for the NDFP to acknowledge the notice of termination, which would take effect 30 days after the acknowledgment.

Meantime, all the NDFP consultants “stranded” in The Netherlands to evade arrest have safely returned to the Philippines. However, the gung-ho solicitor general (the government’s chief lawyer) has filed a court petition calling for the cancellation of their bail to enable the police to re-arrest them. Thus far no further legal action has been announced.

Just before the solgen’s precipitate move, another small window was opened.  Ten of 19 convicted political prisoners were freed

NSC Director General Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.

via conditional presidential pardon, including one of three NDFP consultants. The 19 had been convicted of trumped-up common crime charges and were already recommended for conditional pardon.  Peace advocates are pushing for the release of more political prisoners to improve the chances of continuing the peace talks.

During the waiting period, bilateral discussions on the CASER have continued in Manila. The bilateral teams formed to help reconcile contentious provisions in the GRP and the NDFP drafts of the CASER recently held a three-day working meeting.  The meeting has achieved consensus on many aspects of agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD), including the scope and coverage, disposition of land, and modes of compensation to landowners. They are expected to submit recommendations to their respective reciprocal working committees, which can help accelerate the formal negotiations on the CASER.

As matters stand, it’s obvious that the interruptions of the peace negotiations caused by the ceasefire imbroglio since February have put in jeopardy the mutually-targeted completion of the CASER negotiations before the end of 2017. At best, in the next formal negotiation rounds the panels can target the completion of a partial agreement on agrarian reform and rural development.

But that can happen only if the GRP relents on pushing ahead negotiations on a prolonged bilateral or joint ceasefire.

On Duterte Government’s First Year: Falterings and Turnarounds

in Mainstream
by Angel Balen

Rodrigo R. Duterte was swept into the presidency by a landslide win in the May elections last year on the campaign cry, “Change is coming!” He began his six-year term by taking bold, dramatic moves and making pronouncements in pursuance of his electoral campaign promises.

  1. He launched his administration’s campaign to eradicate illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption, setting a six-month target to win the “war on drugs”.  From the outset it has been a bloody campaign that targeted mainly the poor, who are in fact victims of the drug menace and deserved not death but rehabilitation. He’s emboldened by survey results that say while many acquiesce with the killings, they at the same time express fear they may be the next victims.
  2. Affirming his declared commitment to end labor contractualization, that for decades has been a bane to the workers and trade unions, Duterte directed his labor secretary to issue the required implementing order. But when the order came out, it was a big letdown. It smashed the high expectations of workers unions and federations of varied persuasions.  Alas, the order deviously retains the abominable practice.
  3. Even before assuming office, Duterte struck an understanding with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)that his government would resume — and complete — the long-stalled GRP-NDFP peace talks aimed at ending the nearly 50 years of armed conflict and attaining “just and lasting peace”. He also offered to free the 400 political prisoners listed by the NDFP through his issuance of an amnesty proclamation as the most expeditious means of releasing them from prison and from the trumped-up common-crime charges filed against them under previous administrations.

He did cause the release, through bail, of 21 NDFP consultants and staff to enable them to participate in the peace talks, and freed a few others later. But he has reneged on his amnesty offer.

The talks resumed with high expectations in August 2016 and gained momentum until the end of January.  But since February the situation has changed and continued to deteriorate, prompting Jose Ma. Sison, chief political consultant of the NDFP panel, to write: “…by all major indicators the peace talks are heading for the rocks.”

  1. Invoking the historical injustices that US imperialism had inflicted on the Filipino people for over a century, Duterte vowed to pursue an “independent foreign policy”. This purportedly aims to veer the nation from long subservience to US foreign policy and dependence on American military aid and protection. On various occasions, he threatened to abrogate the unequal treaties with the US, such as the Visiting Forces Agreement, and to boot out American troops from Mindanao.  He began to develop close ties with China and Russia, America’s geopolitical power rivals in Asia and Europe, respectively, hoping to extract from both financial and military aid.

Later, Duterte welcomed and gladly accepted US military aid, troop presence, and interventionist activities in the country.

Duterte has held fast to his “war on drugs,” vowing to carry on the drive till the end of his term. He justifies his bloody methods as the best means to save the lives of Filipino youths from getting ruined.  Rejecting, disparaging local and international criticisms and advices on the mounting human rights violations with the arbitrary killings of thousands of suspected drug users and pushers, he has gone as far as threatening to go after human rights advocates.

However, on his commitments to resume and complete the peace talks and to pursue an independent foreign policy — two potentially historic legacies of his government — Duterte has failed to push these onward.  The momentum towards change first faltered; now it is being even reversed.

As earlier noted, the peace talks resumed in amity and euphoria.  Despite aversion to a prolonged ceasefire, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NDFP agreed to declare an indefinite unilateral ceasefire as a goodwill response to Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration. The ceasefire held for five months, with the New People’s Army (NPA) exercising restraint vis-a-vis the aggressive incursions into and occupation by troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) of communities within the revolutionary base areas. On the negotiating table, the NDFP panel raised the AFP’s actions as ceasefire violations.

Despite this, significant gains were achieved in the next two rounds of formal negotiations (in October 2016 and January 2017) on the substantive issues of economic and social reforms and on the initial discussions on political and constitutional reforms.

A sharp turn happened in early February.  Duterte angrily reacted to the killing of three state soldiers intercepted by the Red fighters, after the CPP had announced the withdrawal of its unilateral ceasefire declaration. He cancelled the peace talks and his defense secretary ordered an “all-out-war” against the NPA.  Since then the AFP has intensified its offensives using aerial bombings and artillery barrages on upland communities and forested areas, driving away and displacing thousands of civilians.

Although Duterte initiated the continuation of the peace talks in April, he didn’t order to stop the “all-out war”. Worse, his Cabinet security cluster has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the formal negotiations: through the GRP panel, it has insisted that negotiations on and signing of a bilateral indefinite ceasefire agreement must come before those for a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms.  The NDFP absolutely rejects this proposal as it violates The Hague Joint Declaration. Worse, it’s a devious militarist scheme to obtain the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces.

By endorsing his security advisers’ scheme, Duterte has undermined his own commitment to accelerate the negotiations:  to forge, sign and approve the comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms and on political and constitutional reforms and implement them within his term.  Thus, he’s forsaking a potential valuable legacy to the Filipino people.

In a similar vein, Duterte has reneged on his pronouncements to do away with US military presence and interventionism. He has allowed the Americans to build military facilities in six military camps and to provide “technical” assistance in the air bombings of Marawi City targetting the Maute group. He has warmly received the US Secretary of State and prepares to welcome President Donald Trump to the country in November.

What explains the faltering and the turnarounds?

Despite his protestations he’s a “socialist” itching to shake up the status quo, he’s revealing his real persona and politics by his actions.  As he trucks with his neoliberal economic managers to keep social, economic and political conditions essentially as they have been for decades, he eggs on his pro-US militarist advisers  and troops in the counterinsurgency drive “to flatten the hills” through air and ground bombardments.  His quickness to adopt militaristic and authoritarian measures — such as declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao, with intimation of extending these to cover the entire country — is veritable evidence of what he wishes to be and to do.

It’s fine that within a short period Duterte has unraveled his true self.  The revolutionary movement need no longer seriously try to play along with his posturing for change and for peace. Unequivocally, the movement and the organized masses will engage him as what he says he has become. Brandishing his mantle as commander-in-chief of all the reactionary state’s armed forces, he tells his erstwhile friends: “I am your enemy!”

Photo from PRWC Info

NDFP Peace Consultants as Desaparecidos

in Gallery

The reactionary governments, through their state security forces, resort to abduction and enforced disappearance to silence those who openly oppose and criticize their oppressive and repressive policies and pose a threat to their rule.

Among the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in the Philippines under various regimes were the National Democratic Front peace consultants who were abducted when the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime stalled the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). This was also part of then Arroyo regime’s implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2.

The abduction and disappearance of the NDFP peace consultants violated the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

Victims’ relatives filed writ of habeas corpus with the courts and lodged complaints with the Commission on Human Rights but nothing came out of these. Witnesses were afraid or threatened. Nobody was held accountable. Perpetrators were even rewarded with promotions. The culture of impunity persisted.
The GRP has yet to face responsibility for these cases of abduction and enforced disappearances and other human rights violations.

Enforced disappearance is not only ferocious, but also most excruciating for the victims’ relatives. Through the years, they have hoped and waited for their loved ones to surface, although deep inside they knew they were hoping against hope. The loss of their loved ones was difficult to accept. But as their hopes never dim, so does their fortitude to stand up for what their loved ones had fought for. ###

Moving the Peace Talks Forward

in Mainstream

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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