A fork on the road is rising to meet the Duterte presidency. One path leads to the future, another leads to the past. The incoming President has the chance of ending the world’s longest communist insurgency by persuading the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Liberation Front to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate into the body politic — that’s the way to the future — or he could, by default, help them take over the government and turn the country into a post-Cold War totalitarian communist state. That’s the way to the past.
Likewise, he has the chance of ending the country’s Moro Islamic insurgency by persuading the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf, Moro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other rebel groups to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate into the body politic, or he could, by default, help them create an autonomous political unit that could ultimately dismember Mindanao by breaking away as an independent Islamic state.
In both cases, most of those who voted for Duterte in the May 9 elections are counting on him to do the first. But many fear he could be outsmarted by the CPP/NPA/NDF and the Moro rebels, which have shown themselves smarter than many of their counterparts in various parts of the world. What can he do to avoid being outsmarted? As he prepares to assume office, this should occupy his deepest thoughts.
As of now, the focus of public attention is on corruption and crime. Duterte’s campaign promise to kill thousands of drug traffickers and to end criminality within his first six months in office has already generated a rash of extra-judicial killings of suspected drug traffickers. Not a few citizens have welcomed these killings and expect more with the promised restoration of the capital sentence. This has alarmed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and many private citizens who have expressed serious concern about the rise of vigilantism.
Beyond street crime
We doubt that extrajudicial killings of criminals and the proposed restoration of the death sentence would help more than harm the individual and society in the long run. While supporting Duterte in prioritizing attention to corruption and crime, we must help raise his sights for the nation and his presidency by pointing out the more fundamental things that cannot be sacrificed for any reason whatsoever. Ending street crime, no matter how urgent, cannot be his most important purpose.
Given the possibility of forging an effective peace agreement with the communist and Moro rebels, and making them partners in government, the creation of a “state without enemies,” to borrow a term from Anthony Giddens, has to become the first priority of the Duterte government.
This does not simply mean trying to bring the communist and Moro rebel forces together to support a “democratic system” that does not work, or allowing them to impose their own failed systems upon our dysfunctional state or government. Rather it means working with them to develop new ways of creating greater justice, equality, job opportunities, disposable income, and human happiness for all, and making the most mundane things work.
Both communism and socialism have failed. Islamic extremism has produced a new wave of terror called ISIS. Our democracy has become a parody of itself and needs to be made more democratic. We need a new ideology, a new way of looking at things, a new way of governing ourselves. We cannot get this from the communists or Moro separatists, but we could perhaps learn from each other by trading ideas and experiences.
Many of us were stunned in disbelief upon hearing of President-elect Duterte’s decision to name nominees of the CPP/NPA/NDF to the Cabinet. And for the most valid of reasons— the subject was never remotely discussed during the campaign, and the peace talks between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF have not produced the shadow of any such agreement, before they were suspended.
And yet weren’t we showing too much unnecessary fear (paranoia) of the communists, asks a faithful reader, by our vivid (in some cases, livid) reaction? The communists belong to the past, rather than to the present, why should we be so afraid?
Why fear the communists?
This seems to carry an unquestionably valid point. The Cold War ended in 1991. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, established five years after the Russian revolution on Dec. 30, 1922, was dissolved. China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea alone survived the worldwide collapse. But post-Mao China adopted market capitalism to become the fastest-growing economy in the world, while Cuba and Vietnam began reaching out to the West, ultimately normalizing relations with the United States, the ultimate capitalist nation.
Even in the mountain kingdom of Nepal, the Maoists had been winning parliamentary elections after they laid down their arms in 2008. In Europe, where both communism and socialism have vanished, the only card-bearing communists left were in Utrecht, and they were not even Europeans but Filipinos. These were remnants of the old communist revolutionaries, who had tried to topple the Marcos government in the 70s but failed.
As a young newspaper reporter I used to hang out with Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the CPP, at the Lyceum of the Philippines, where he taught political science, during his Kabataang Makabayan days. This was years before he founded the CPP on Dec. 26, 1968 and the New People’s Army, its military arm, under Commander Dante (Bernabe Buscayno) on March 29, 1969, with the reported “help” of the late former Senator Ninoy Aquino.
That same year I left my newspaper career to join the Marcos Cabinet. In 1991, on a visit to the Netherlands, I spoke to Sison again, in Utrecht. This was our first meeting after the lapse of many years. Speaking of the collapse of the Soviet empire, he said it was largely due to its own errors, but he remained hopeful about the future of China under Mao Zedong Thought, and presumably of the CPP/NPA/NDF.
But China took on economic robes from Wall Street, and the CPP splintered into the “Rejectionists” (those who reject Sison’s leadership) and the “Reaffirmists” (those who reaffirm his leadership). So worldwide, the communist movement was a mess; and in the Philippines, it had ceased to be a monolith. Nevertheless, the CPP/NPA/NDF has been undaunted by its reverses, and the propaganda expresses its confidence.
Sison’s failed forecast
As early as 1989, after President Cory Aquino released Sison from jail, he started predicting a “strategic stalemate” between the Philippine government and the revolutionary forces, within the next two to three years. In an interview with Dr. Justus M. Van Der Kroef, chairman of the political science department at the University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and published in the Winter issue of World Affairs in 1989, Sison claimed that the NPA had at the time 10,000 full-time guerrilla fighters with automatic weapons, augmented by 20,000 other guerrilla fighters, thousands of militia supporters, plus a mass base of 10 million in various mass organizations.
Ranged against these forces, according to Sison, were 40,000 combat effectives in 86 battalions augmented by 120,000 support troops and an additional 100,000 police and military personnel.
“To reach the strategic stalemate, it is enough for the revolutionary forces to have only 25,000 full-time revolutionary fighters armed with automatic rifles and other high-powered weapons. This level of strength would allow the NPA to operate in 1,000 of the 1,500 towns and cities of the Philippines,” Sison was quoted as saying. “As I said before, to move up from 10,000 to 25,000 is no longer a dream. The growth of the armed revolutionary movement is cumulative.”
This has not come to pass.
In the last election, the CPP/NPA/NDF campaigned for Duterte, and the victorious candidate surprised the nation by announcing a coalition government with the CPP/NPA/NDF, ahead of any negotiated settlement. This tends to render the armed struggle moot and academic, and make it unnecessary for the contending parties to go through any kind of “strategic stalemate.” The only thing the new government has to be sure of is that the communists do not occupy their Cabinet posts, while the NPA remains intact and operates undisturbed in their so-called “controlled territories.”
As of now, exploratory talks are being held in Oslo, Norway between the Sison group and some prospective members of the Duterte Cabinet. Their agenda can only be presumed to relate to the “coalition government.” But since the new government has not yet assumed office (this will not happen until June 30), and the discussants from Manila have no legal personality to enter into any kind of official agreement, they can only engage in friendly conversations that have no binding effect on the new government.
Still, they could exchange ideas on how to construct a “coalition government,” or they could venture into the broader issue of creating a “state without enemies.” This goes beyond solving the long festering conflict with the CPP/NPA/NDF. It also entails solving the Moro Islamic insurgency, which threatens to dismember Mindanao, as well as the Philippines’ external problem on the South China Sea, which threatens to make the country the theater of a possible nuclear conflict between China and the United States.
What DU30 can do
President Duterte should be able to show the nation and the world that his proposed coalition with the communists has an irreplaceable contribution to make in bringing peace and prosperity to Mindanao and the rest of the country, and in preventing an unnecessary nuclear conflict in the South China Sea between China and the United States. This is the best way—perhaps the only way—- he could disarm the critics of his unilateral decision to enter into a coalition government with the CPP/NPA/NDF without the benefit of a referendum or an openly negotiated comprehensive peace agreement.
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DEEPEST CONDOLENCES. We join the rest of the nation in mourning the passing of former Senator Ernesto Maceda, whose last public engagement was as columnist on the Philippine Star, and who died on Monday evening at 81. He had a long government career. We sat together in the Marcos Cabinet, where he served from 1966 until he resigned, and I served from 1969 to 1980. We also sat together in the Senate for two consecutive terms, where he became Senate President and I became Senate Majority Leader. He lived such a colorful political career that he often reminded his friends of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “I am ready for my Maker, but I wonder if my Maker is ready for me.” Even his elders called him Manong, a term of deference to an older brother. He enjoyed writing and getting feedback on his column, and he would probably have said with Hilaire Belloc, if he had the time, “My sins are scarlet, but my columns are read.”
I ask the gentle reader to say a prayer for him. Thank you so much, and God bless.