For the first time since formal peace talks in 1987, the communist insurgency’s real big guns will be de facto part of the actual negotiations: Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Austria, Adelberto Silva, Renante Gamara, and Alan Jazmines.
Tiamzon had been party chairman for the last decade until his capture in March 2014. His wife Wilma, who was captured with him, had been the secretary general. Adelberto Silva, the party’s Organization Bureau head, had succeeded Austria as secretary general until his capture in June 2015. Jazmines ran the National Democratic Front supervising all the party’s above-ground political struggles. Gamara headed the party’s powerful Manila-Rizal Committee until his capture in 2013.
The communist leaders — twelve of them — were technically consultants to the National Democratic Front per agreement in past peace talks, and on this basis were freed and allowed to go to Oslo to join the peace talks with government, which started yesterday.
This is such a game changer.
It was an unprecedented move by President Duterte to make sure that the insurgents were actually represented in the talks, as he had started think that founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison and his small gang in Utrecht may no longer be accurately representing the insurgents’ views, as he had been away from the Philippines for three decades already. There were also reports that Sison had not been consulting enough with the communist leaders left in the Philippines in the past negotiations.
It was really a bold, move on the part of Duterte, which the communists themselves had not expected, and represents the breakthrough in the peace talks since these started in 1987. Any other president could not have undertaken it since it risked the ire of the military, which has continued to suffer casualties from NPA attacks in the past several years.
Duterte’s move risked the demoralization of the military’s intelligence service, which had worked for many years to capture the communist leaders. This is likely one reason why Duterte in his first two months in power has given speeches to military groups more than his successor Benigno Aquino 3rd did in his five years in office.
Duterte of course was lucky to have at his disposal the communist leaders to join the peace talks in the first place. Tiamzon and several others were captured only since 2013.
Tiamzon’s group represents the second generation of leaders of the Communist Party, who almost all became communists only through the surge of the student movement in the early 1970s. In contrast, Sison was with the pro-Soviet Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, and he single-handedly recruited his core-group, believing in him as the country’s Mao Ze Dong.
Sison and his “Politburo” were all die-hard Maoists, partly because it was funded heavily by China in its ardor to export revolution during Mao Ze Dong. Among his Politiburo, only Sison actually remains active in revolution, with several of his original comrades killed or have died of natural causes, and three becoming citizens of Spain, Germany and Canada, and living quiet lives.
In contrast, Tiamzon’s Politburo members were recruited through the student movement, by different cadres. While still mouthing their adherence to “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Ze Dong Thought,” they are known not to stick to dogmas, and have instead learned from their experience in actual revolution. Several of them in their revolutionary careers have been through heated debates on the strategy for the Philippine revolution, and had experimented on the late NPA commander Romy Kintanar’s and fiery Manila-Rizal leader Filemon Lagman’s urban model for a political-military uprising.
What would be going for Duterte’s round of peace talks is the personal dimension. Sison has lived in the Netherlands for three decades and appears to have, as most old men do, planted deep roots there. Read his books, and he is living in his own little world, out of touch with Philippine reality — and the world — that he thinks, as he had thought in the 1970s, that a “People’s Republic of the Philippines” would be the glorious outpost of communism in Asia, just waiting for capitalism to collapse worldwide.
I don’t think Sison and his Utretch gang were ever really interested in reaching a settlement with government, unless it is one in which he as returned Party chairman shares power with the Philippine President. The peace talks now make up the chance for Sison to be interviewed in media. Why would he ever want this to be ended, with a settlement?
In contrast, Tiamzon and his Politburo have lived in the Philippines for the past 40-plus years. They have seen their “Red bases” rise and fall, they have seen revolutionary flows — as those in Davao and Manila in the 1980s — ebb and forgotten so quickly. They are seeing their rural bases overtaken by even farmers using cellphones and watching television. They have realized that countries that had been more backward than us when they stared to make revolution in the 1970s — countries like South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia — became rich countries even with their class structures.
I believe that Tiamzon’s Politburo would be more realistic and drop Sison’s pipe-dream for a People’s Democratic Republic of the Philippines ruled by the Communist Party, and instead undertake steps through the peace talks for weakening the landlord and oligarchic rule. Some useful role for the Communist cadres and NPA commanders, and I would think they would agree to a settlement, to spend their twilight years in relative comfort and peace of mind.
Duterte has cleverly appointed Tiamzon’s comrades into high positions in his government, very significantly peasant leader Rafael Mariano as head of the Agrarian Reform department, a body officially tasked to undertake what had been the communists’ top agenda, the end of tenancy in the Philippines.
I don’t think Mariano will report to Tiamzon that his post has been a useless one. His experience will instead open the possibilities for Tiamzon’s group on how to work within a democratic system, rather than spending their resources — and lives — in trying to violently overthrow government. After 40 years, I think they aren’t that stupid to believe that that will ever happen in this day and age.