IN PRRD’s July 24 SONA, he made it clear that the talks with the CPP-NDF have been aborted. Cancelled. “Peace is elusive,” he declared, with a tinge of exasperation. When Duterte invited the New People’s Army (NPA) in a sincere effort for a dialogue at the start of his administration, he took a great risk, in light of the grumblings of the military, to free some of their prize catch and entice the left with Cabinet posts. Blood and treasure were spent to capture these dissidents over the years and the burden fell on the soldiers, their families and the military institution itself.
Last July 15 to 17, another round of discussions was conducted in the Netherlands on the provisions on agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD). Positive advances were achieved as 60 to 70 percent of the common draft on the reforms stipulated in the comprehensive agreement on social and economic reform (Caser) were being agreed to. Another round of talks had been set for August to discuss the other remaining issues in the Caser. All of these discussions were aimed at finally ending the armed conflict.
Then the NPA ambushed a Presidential Security Group (PSG) team on July 19, on the Davao-Bukidnon highway, in Arakan, North Cotabato – five days before the SONA. This was the immediate trigger for the peace talks’ cancellation.
Prior to this, the NPA had been sporadically conducting skirmishes in the countryside and threatening businesses and public transportation plying the provinces, requiring owners to pay “revolutionary taxes”. Some of these extortionate practices have been reluctantly reported to authorities for fear of reprisal. But the economic effect and the cost of doing business had to be passed on to the customers and the riding public. But lately the ambushes and attacks on the ground have been bold—burning trucks and equipment of mining firms in the hinterlands. Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC) is a case in point where hundreds of millions of pesos worth of property were burned and destroyed. And this was within the city limits of Davao.
“Simula ngayon, no more talks. I will prepare government. Lahat ng pera, gagastusin ko muna sa military, wala na muna iyang ano-ano. Sila ang unahin ko (From now on, no more talks. I will prepare government. I will spend the money first for the military. We will set aside the talks; I will prioritize the military) .”
Behind this bluster and moves and counter-moves by PRRD and the NPA are some salient points. Foremost of these is the heterogeneous nature of the current CPP/NDF/NPA. Most of the founders and original leaders of the communist movement in the country that spawned the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its National Democratic Front (NDF) and its armed group (NPA) – are no longer in positions of authority. Most have been killed or have died off or have retired after stints in prison. The main personalities in exile in the Netherlands have been out of the country for decades and the face of this “leftist ideology” has changed. In one sense, Jose Maria Sison (Joma), the “primus interpares” of the left is no longer “in control”. The new breed of NPA no longer listens to these old leaders and operate under their own younger chain of command in the countryside. And the “open and legitimized” democratic front (NDF) is now populated by a younger generation with some of its elderly known leadership and icons co-opted into the Deegong administration with juicy cabinet and sub-cabinet level positions. Thus, DU30 has arrived at the conclusion that the current leadership and the whole cabal of the “communist group” no longer have the handle on their side to conduct the “peace process” with the DU30 regime. He has been speaking to the wrong set of leaders.
A minor distraction in the peace process is that the citizenry too, and a growing number of people in the military, have become wary of government spending for these talks held outside Philippines and for personal side trips after the sessions of delegates gallivanting all over Europe.
If ever the peace process is to resume, back-door talks will have to be re-started. And more importantly, with the right personalities in the CPP/NDF/NPA camp who are in “control of the guns”. It would help to provide stricter rules that ensure greater accountability in both sides for those who fail to observe ceasefire agreements. Giving peace a chance should not just come from the government, but from the CPP-NDF-NPA as well. Peace is not just something that is agreed upon by a couple of delegates, not even by a mere signed document from both panels.
The alternative that PRRD has presented in the SONA is not a solution and in fact is scary. In a pique, Duterte ordered PNP Chief Ronaldo dela Rosa to get rid of the NPA “whatever it takes”. After pacifying the Marawi situation, Duterte wanted Dela Rosa to focus on pulverizing the NPA. With the state of our police forces under incompetent leadership, and its hands full in the elimination of drug-related crimes and problems, the police forces as they are now structured are simply a formula for disaster. PRRD of course is aware of this and understands that professionalizing the police forces is an imperative before they can carry the brunt of the fight against insurgency.
But the Deegong must realize too that the solution to this decades-old insurgency is basically the application of social justice for all, the rooting out of the causes of poverty, and simply good governance, not exclusively through the barrel of a gun. And this requires the whole government with the backing of the citizenry to “own the peace process”.