AFTER all the publicity, expense and expectation of a final peace agreement, it is doubly frustrating to see the negotiators of the Philippine government and the communist insurgents cancel last Saturday the fifth round of peace talks to end the 48-year communist insurgency in the country.
The latest straw to scuttle the talks is the decision of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to oppose President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. It ordered its ground forces, the New People’s Army (NPA), to intensify its offensive operations against government troops in the South. It was a call to arms that predictably got a prompt and blunt reply.
The government panel issued a statement from the Netherlands relaying its decision to pull out of the talks. Government negotiator Jesus Dureza explained: “The most serious development which puts in great jeopardy these negotiations is the Communist Party’s decision ordering its ground forces to accelerate and intensify attacks against the government in the face of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao…”
He said that because of this order, the government’s peace panel “will not participate in the scheduled fifth round of peace negotiations until such time as there are clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace in the land through peace negotiations shall prevail.”
In reply to this announcement, Luis Jalandoni, senior adviser of the National Democratic Front, the CPP’s political and negotiating arm, declared: “The cancellation of the fifth round indicates that the government panel does not want to negotiate to discuss a comprehensive agreement based on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.”
“The government panel should take responsibility for stopping the talks,” Jalandoni added.
The blame-passing and finger-pointing has been characteristic of the peace effort since the very first round. The two sides have not moved forward because the talks were frequently stalled by demands of one side that the other side could not concede. Fundamental issues about the terms of full cessation of hostilities and decommissioning of arms could not even reach the peace table. Even when President Duterte no less agreed to the provisional release of detained communist leaders for the sake of the talks, the communist panel could not break new ground in the communists’ negotiating position.
Despite the stalemate, the talks slogged on, hoping for a lucky breakthrough.
The situation turned positively dismal the other week, when the top communist leaders, including CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and the communist panel, admitted frankly to the government side that the CPP leadership had no control over its ground forces. It could not speak for the NPA in the negotiations.
This introduced not only a new perspective on the command structure of the insurgency; it explained why the negotiations often bogged down whenever the talk got serious. Issues like revolutionary taxation by the NPA and persistent NPA attacks on government forces and local businesses could not be sensibly heard by the communist negotiators.
When the difference in viewpoint stretches as well into the government’s freedom of action in proclaiming martial law—whether locally or nationwide—it touches a different nerve. If the CPP-NPA chooses to fight the emergency proclamation in Mindanao, it challenges the government‘s sovereign right. Government, and its martial law executor, the nation’s security forces, would now have no choice but to confront the communist insurgents. At such a point, the niceties are set aside.