A GOVERNMENT-declared ceasefire is always good news to the communist New People’s Army. Nearly seven months of such ceasefire gave the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines time and opportunity to recruit, extort, recover and expand. Encounters and ambushes from Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat to Malibcong in Abra reflect an invigorated NPA. However, since the Armed Forces of the Philippines resumed military operations against the NPA, the latter has been pushed back. Now, a new ceasefire will take effect.
The fact that it has armed men and women under its control, men and women who do not hesitate to kill and coerce, is the very reason that the CPP, through the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, can force the government to the negotiating table. Two questions pop up: Do the communists really want peace? And is top-level peace talks the only way to end insurgency?
To the first question, my answer is yes and no. The communists—the NDFP, the CPP, the NPA and the long string of legal and underground sectoral, people’s and non-governmental organizations—do not want peace per se. They want communism and they want political power. They cannot achieve this through our— admittedly flawed—democratic processes, so they seek to seize it, overtly and covertly. They are fortunate this time to have enjoyed not only a long ceasefire, but to have been given Cabinet positions as well, giving them an unprecedented opportunity to expand their influence using legitimate positions and government resources.
To the second question, yes, there are other ways to end insurgency. Over the years, once insurgency-plagued provinces Bohol and Cebu have shown that insurgency is not perpetual. Bohol is the best case of a poor, insurgency-infested province that ended insurgency through political will. Not taking anything for granted and to sustain the peace, Bohol’s provincial government dispatches quick reaction teams composed of its personnel and representatives from the police and the army to look into complaints and concerns reaching its attention. The teams report back their findings, and solutions are identified, developed and implemented, according to an army officer assigned to Bohol.
Today, the province of Negros Oriental is following in the footsteps of Bohol. Governor Roel Degamo has convened local stakeholders, including the province’s very active civil society, to find ways to convince the remaining—about 50— members of the NPA to come down from the mountains. A number of rebels have surrendered over the past several years with few, if any, new ones being recruited. Aside from offering cash and livelihood incentives to the surrenderees, the provincial government has stepped up the delivery of services such as medical missions, water systems, electricity, farm-to-market roads and livelihood programs, to even the remotest villages (Sun Star Cebu, February 15, 2017). In Negros Oriental, ‘a remote village’ is remote not necessarily in terms of distance but because of the lack of decent roads, making delivery of government services difficult, while farmers are denied access to farm implements and technologies, and markets for their produce.
Agrarian reform-related issues remain in Negros Oriental, but not on the same scale as Negros Occidental. Failure in the past to place under coverage several large haciendas in Negros Occidental has led to illegal land occupation—an agrarian equivalent to Kadamay’s taking over of housing projects in Luzon—organized by groups identified with the CPP-NPA. Will these landholdings be part of the free land distribution agreed on by the NDFP and the government? Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon is offering up to P300,000 to members of the NPA (about 150 in Occidental) who surrender with high-powered firearms. However, if the agrarian injustice that continues to be a source of economic, social and political marginalization in Negros Occidental is left unaddressed, Marañon’s generous cash offer is unlikely to have a long-term impact.
This is the meat of the matter: the root causes of insurgency and addressing these today, not tomorrow. Where economic progress brings benefits to everyone, where government services are delivered, insurgency ends. The state-run PhilippineInformation Agency on April 4, 2017, reported that “President Duterte has ordered fast-tracking of all government programs and projects to address the root causes of the discontent regardless of the pace and status of the peace talks.” That’s the way to go.
The advantage of having local government, with the support of the national government, address the root causes of insurgency and cause the peaceful surrender of individual rebels, rather than have centralized peace talks with the NDFP, is that the former formula—unlike the latter—requires no political and military concessions. Furthermore, local peace initiatives, like the one embarked on in Negros Oriental, are participatory and transparent. The only losers here are the New People’s Army and such political organizations whose relevance and power depend on armed struggle.