WILL President Rodrigo Duterte do an Erap?
The question arises in the heat of the renewed hostilities between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). President Duterte had announced an “all-out war” against the communist rebels, and the last time such a policy of war against a Philippine insurgency was made was in 2000, in the government’s war against the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
President Joseph Ejercito Estrada announced that “all-out war” policy in 2000 and determinedly pushed it through the MILF strongholds in Mindanao, crushing its military camps quickly one after the other, culminating in the utter pulverization of the Muslim rebels’ mother stronghold, Camp Abubakar.
The MILF would be unheard from since, and although in the succeeding administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the MILF, thanks to the patronage of US Ambassador Kristie Kinney, surfaced again and got recognized for peace negotiations with the government, that would form an entirely different story, not figuring in this present consideration.
What is of moment now is that President Estrada did it once upon a time, announcing and immediately thereafter actually pursuing the “all-out war” policy. Will President Duterte actually pursue, too, this time his own announced policy of “all-out war” against the CPP/NPA? And if Duterte would, will he succeed, as Erap succeeded with the MILF, in pulverizing the CPP/NPA?
Doing the MILF in was no easy job for President Estrada. He had two powerful forces falling in the way of his implementing that war policy. One was the Catholic Church, or at least its head at the time, Jaime Cardinal Sin, who telephoned the President, imploring him not to proceed with his plan to attack the MILF camp.
“Cardinal,” Erap is said to have invited the archbishop to Malacañang, “please come and see this video I am viewing. Fourteen Marines beheaded by the MILF and then tell me again what you are telling me now.”
The Cardinal did not come, but just to illustrate where Sin’s loyalties lay, next to make exactly the same entreaty with Erap was a dignitary from the US State Department speaking in behalf of then US President Bill Clinton. And with the same conviction that he had with Cardinal Sin, Erap rejected the importuning of the US official.
Erap was impeached and thrown out of office within two months of his rejection of the US-expressed wish for him not to crush Camp Abubakar, but this does not seem to bear upon this present discussion. What world power would Duterte be contending against if he in turn pulverized the CPP/NPA now? No other foreign power has been known to intervene with such wanton barefacedness in Philippine affairs except the United States.
What reason would the US have this time to do to Duterte if he pulverized the CPP/NPA what it did to Erap for his pulverizing the MILF in his time? If Duterte gets ousted like Erap,that would give us an inkling of what strategic agenda the CPP/NPA is actually serving by its continuing pursuit of a never-ending protracted people’s war. In a war where you do not program the downfall of your enemy, you actually serve to prop up the rule of your enemy endlessly.
We have had this Sisonite “protracted people’s war” for five decades now, and the future of thousands of young men had been sacrificed and wasted on that war so that it behooves those who, though now in the twilight of their years, continue to pin hope on that future being still attainable in the here-and-now, to cite the following mandates by Sun Tzu in his Art of War:
*When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.
*Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
* Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
*Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
*There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
*In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
As of this writing, Duterte hasn’t yet done anything indicating that he would do a repeat of Erap, doing it against the CPP/NPA. But from the rebels’ camp, we can glean that they are thrown into panic, indicating they fear Duterte means what he says about “all-out war”.
In what can be deduced as a couched move of appeasement of the enemy, the National Democratic Front, indeed the front of the CPP/NPA in the ongoing peace negotiations with the government, has released a press statement stating their reasons for not agreeing to the unilateral termination by Duterte of those negotiations.
A headline news report in the Manila Times goes: “The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has refused to acknowledge the written notice sent by the government on the termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), a deal that keeps peace consultants from being arrested.
“In a statement, NDFP negotiating peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili said that the government had ‘no fair and just reason’ to terminate the peace negotiations two weeks after the conclusion of the third round of formal talks in Rome, Italy.
“Agcaoili cited the advances made during the negotiations, including discussions on human rights and reforms and an agreement to meet in the Netherlands on February 22 to 27 to hammer out a bilateral ceasefire.
“’With the above progress in the talks, it is unreasonable for any party to unilaterally terminate the peace negotiations without just cause and squander the gains so far achieved,’” Agcoili said, as he pointed out a technical error in the notice of termination.
He said the letter of termination of the JASIG sent by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza was “improperly addressed”.
The statement of Agcaoili betrays a position of weakness. In war negotiations between rebels and government, the former are deemed to hold the high ground, for which reason in fact the latter wants the conflict done in talks. But the way Agcaoili sounds, the rebels are veritably imploring the government not to stop the talks, please.
Citing a technicality and “advances” made in the negotiations, Agcaoili finds reason to sound strong, saying
“The NDFP cannot be a party to an unjust, unreasonable and improper termination of the JASIG. The GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) bears full responsibility for its unilateral decision.”
But the statement amuses. How’s that to be done? By not being a party to “an unjust, unreasonable and improper termination of the JASIG,” doesn’t Agcaoili imply that the talks continue. But the government is backing out of those talks; who do the rebels talk to, themselves?
If at all, what the Agcaoili statement amounts to is a propaganda ploy for justifying the non-surrender, or return to government fold if you may, of those who had been released on bail to act as consultants for the rebel side in the negotiations, for instance, the couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.
Duterte has put it bluntly to these people, “You go back to jail.”
That, in turn for the President, is a laughing matter as well. Does he expect those “consultants” to be gentlemen enough to respect their incarceration and return to jail now that the negotiations have broken down?
The only beneficiaries in these comic episode are the Tiamzon couple and their ilk, who can now direct their middle fingers to Duterte: “Ngekngek mo.” Who is the stupid rebel who, having already been out of the enemy’s prison, would want to place himself in that enemy’s custody again? Unless this whole zarzuela of war and peace is one whole damn joke only. It is all up to Duterte now to prove it is no joke on his part. If I were to believe former Senator Kit Tatad that during the period when Duterte was still mayor he was elected member of the NDF upon nomination by Jun Evasco, then there is great reason for me to doubt the seriousness of the peace talks which the President appears to have recently terminated.
The only way to erase that doubt is for the President to make good his policy of all-out war against the CPP/NPA. And if, being a revolutionary, and in fact having been already touted by his supporters as versed in Sun Tzu’s art war, then Duterte should recognize that now is the perfect time for him to unleash that all-out war.
By Agcaoili’s pronouncements, it seems apparent that the CPP/NPA is not ready to engage the government in such a war. Sison himself came out in the media calling for a resumption of the peace talks, quite in contrast to his posturing vis-à-vis Duterte before the start of those talks, i.e. belligerent. Now the Philippine communist sovereign is issuing such unlikely statements as “give peace a chance.”
In all likelihood, the CPP/NPA, perhaps sensing Duterte is serious with his policy of all-out war against the communist insurgency, are resorting to ploys to avert such a war. So, from Duterte, the marching orders for his troops should be a Mao Zedong basic tenet in guerilla warfare: “When the enemy attacks, retreat. When the enemy rests, harass him. When the enemy shows no sign of resistance, attack. When the enemy retreats, pursue.”
Both from the NDF and from the CPP sovereign, the signs are clear: the NPA does not want to fight. It’s high time Duterte attacked and—as Erap did in 2000—won.