Forget for a moment the gruesome, horrific footage of four, five-year-old kids senselessly snuffed out by the war on drugs. How can the future of the nation be collateral damage to the war on drugs? For a change, another footage brings instant hope to an insurgency-weary nation. That awe-inspiring photo of Mr. Duterte – with his fist in an awkward clench – hosting a dinner for the leaders of the Left at the Palace.
That was like the gesture of President Quezon to personally discuss the agrarian concerns of the Sosyalistas with Pedro Abad Santos in Pampanga – which was climaxed by Quezon’s announcement to give all of his 100 hectares of prime agricultural land in Arayat to the tenant-farmers. There are still grainy photos of Quezon with the Sosyalistas.
The Rebels at the Gate, indeed. But fully embraced by the state. And with the full intent to silence the guns of insurgency and sincerely talk peace with Mr. Duterte and his government.
Seal the deal, man, and you will go down in history as one great President. What failed in 1986 has found its perfect timing now. There is very little incentive for Mr. Duterte to abort a deal of epic significance to the nation.
Mrs. Aquino tried to talk peace with the Left in 1986. But at a time when the appointment of a mere progressive like Augusto Sanchez – and his talk about profit-sharing – as labor secretary was viewed as a drift to a leftist state, you instantly felt that the talks, even with the sincerity, would go nowhere. The military rebels who were the central characters in the ouster of Mr. Marcos held too much sway and they drowned out the voices of the Aquino-supporting progressives in and out of the Cabinet.
“Chasing Reds was a national sport.” The elements of a faction in the government of Mr. Aquino were determined to chase the Reds, real and mostly imaginary, out of the Aquino government. After so much bickering and recrimination, both sides called off the peace talks and things were back to Square One.
Today, the Left is still a potent force. There was no exaggeration to its claim that it opened several guerrilla fronts during the time of Mrs. Aquino’s son, the previous President. And it can open up some more should it desire to do so now.
It has an above-ground organization active in Congress, totally legit. But that underground and above-ground presence is useless unless what the Left calls as the “conditions obtaining” are not “conditions obtaining” in Philippine society. The conditions are intractable poverty, a vast rich-poor divide, the absolute lack of meritocracy and a political economy that offers no solutions to the crippling problems; the conditions that make the Left a viable proposition.
In Mr. Aquino’s six years in office, the economy grew by 6 to 7 percent consistently. But the top 1 percent vacuumed up 60 percent of the gains, and left the 99 percent scrambling for their crumbs. Those six years created a class of Filipino dollar billionaires that were ranked in the category of “those-who-can-buy-a-small country-rich.”
Yet, some towns, mostly in Mr. Duterte’s home region of Mindanao, had poverty levels of 84 percent and never budged at all from that dire status despite the growth levels of Mr. Aquino. Mr. Aquino’s invocation of “inclusive growth” was a verbal scam to cosmeticize the dark underbelly of his “for the top 1 percent presidency” – the condition, precisely, that heightens the allure of the Left and seals the success of its recruitment missions.
Today is the time to talk peace, silence the guns of insurgency and mainstream the Left. And history is on the side of Mr. Duterte.
Today, Mr. Duterte’s government is negotiating with the legitimate party, the Reaffirm faction, the group with the real army and the strong above-ground organization.
The rigid belief in its capability to seize state power via a long protracted war is maybe impractical and was last validated in 1949 but it is the greatest source of its staying power. The dogged, plodding strength has its roots on the deep belief that history is on the side of insurgency. (At some point in my young life, I believed in that. At some point in the young lives of my parents, they believed in that, too. Later, you find out that there is no such thing as historical determinism.)
The factions outside of this group, those who reject the theory of a long, protracted war, have no value to Mr. Duterte for the simple reason that they have no army. Which is, from a negotiating point, correct.
Moreover, the political environment is different now. The usual worst fears about a “Red Menace” are not as hysterical as before and the witch hunters, professionals and amateurs, have gone back to their caves. Across the globe, left-wing insurgencies are either being wasted by irrelevance or successfully negotiating peace pacts with the state. Just look at the FARC. That Mr. Duterte now prefers moving to the China-Russia axis and moving away from its old alliances, is viewed positively by the Left.
Across the globe, the pinpointed number one threat to global peace is Islamic fundamentalism and its armies that want to establish caliphates and antediluvian theocracies. Secular insurgencies still worry Western democracies but at a lesser level of hysteria.
Mr. Duterte wants to seize the moment and make leadership history.