LAST week we saw a glimmer of hope when we learned that the government team and its communist counterpart meeting in Oslo, Norway, in the presence of officials of the Norwegian government—the third party facilitator—have agreed on an open-ended ceasefire. Two days ago, on Monday, there was another sign for us to feel more hopeful.
Returning from the Oslo talks, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the European Union has removed the name of Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the leader of the National Democratic Front (NDF), from its list of terrorists while continuing to consider the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations.
The distinction the EU has drawn between Sison and his political affiliations is a clear sign of third-party support, probably canvassed by Norway, for helping the peace talks to progress to a happy conclusion soon. There is also a message for Sison and his comrades hidden therein, which is that if the rebels will earnestly strive for peace, lay down arms and join the mainstream of our society and its political processes they could expect the EU to lift all bans against them and their organizations. After all, communist parties function in other democratic societies as legitimate political organizations taking part in democratic elections and succeeding sometimes to form governments.
Negotiations between the government and the communists have gone on intermittently for well over 20 years. But none has achieved as much as this round of talks has achieved within a short period time, which underlines, in effect, the good intentions on all sides.
The EU decision to clear the name of Sison, though without clearing his political organizations from its terrorism list, should help Sison to return home, if he desires, without the fear of arrest if the plane carrying him has to make a stopover in any EU member territory. Perhaps, the EU initiative could be something for our major ally, the United States, to ponder about and consider how it could help push this peace process closer to progress.
The communist rebellion is estimated to have claimed tens of thousands of lives since the NPA was formed within months after the CPP was formally founded by Sison on the 75th birthday of his ideological guru, the Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong, who preached that revolution was “an act of violence by which one class overthrows another” and “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Thousands of innocent civilians were also killed along with government soldiers and communist fighters.
The communists have nothing worthwhile to show for the carnage, except that the national treasurer has been forced to devote a great deal of funds for the government forces to fight this battle.
Over these years significant changes have taken place. Even the Communist Party of China that once secretly aided communists in various parts of Asia, including the CPP, with a goal of making Asia a great vast area over which the red flag will fly, has changed. Look at China today. It is no longer the egalitarian utopia that Mao had proclaimed to create. In fact, assessing China’s long-term interest, after the demise of Mao, the Chinese Communist Party has cut off the support it has been giving to foreign comrades. Its relations with the CPP ended over two decades ago.
These changes and subsequent reassessments appear to have compelled the NDF leaders to take a closer look at present realities vis-à-vis their dream of establishing what they call “a people’s revolutionary government.”
Above all, the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the head of state did, we think, mark the turning point. Duterte has taken the bold initiative to include some former communists or fellow travelers to make his administration look like a coalition government. Besides, in his inaugural State of the Nation Address Duterte also ordered a unilateral ceasefire as a clear indication that he is sincere about negotiating a lasting peace accord.
Ignoring these initiatives by a leader, who is willing to stand alone against the world to deliver the promise he made to the electorate, is not a wise option for the NDF. Along with these realities the NDF must also consider the economic development and social welfare that the President, who considers himself a socialist, has begun to introduce. These measures, when fully realized, will make the communists and their effort to achieve their political objective with the power of the gun less appealing to the masses.
This is a time to let reason prevail over ideology.