Game-changing political decisions made by President Rodrigo Duterte in his first three months in office seem to point to a possible peace agreement between the Philippine government and the local communists not going the way of the Colombian debacle.
Such decisions show that the President obviously wants the rebels to reciprocate his grand gesture in the spirit of lasting reconciliation in order for the peace pact to be later accepted by Filipinos in whatever forum it will be presented to them for approval.
As of this writing, no antagonistic differences across the negotiating table in Oslo have been known to erupt, boding well for a successful conclusion to the long-drawn peace process, which the President kicked off with confidence-building measures, such as leaving the door open for the communists to join his government.
He had appointed to his Cabinet two radical leftists identified with the Communist Party of the Philippines to head Agrarian Reform (Rafael Mariano), to the chagrin of landlords, including the owners of Hacienda Luisita, and Social Welfare (Judy Taguiwalo), but to the delight of the landless poor.
In the Agriculture department, the President slotted the liberal Emmanuel Pinol, a former activist himself and politician who has promised that farmers will have his undivided attention during his watch.
Regina Lopez, as Environment chief, has not disappointed, ordering a mining audit in defense of what is left of the country’s mineral resources that have been extracted by multinational firms, to the alleged marginalization of rural folk and evident destruction of already denuded mountains.
In the inner Duterte circle is a former leader of the communist party’s armed wing New People’s Army, which is as Maoist as the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, can get.
The appointment of these non-Yellows as members of the President’s official family, with the possible exception of Lopez, was initially met with indignation by the EDSA crowd. But the noise they created eventually died down, no match as they were against the hugely popular and populist Duterte, who, it seemed, could do no wrong.
The latest affirmation of immense public support of the President’s performance as the country’s leader – and never mind the doomsayers “scandalized” by his foul mouth, “horrified” by his administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs and mortified by his expletive-laden attacks on the US President and America itself – came this week from a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, probably the first in 90 days or so on Duterte since June 30 when he took his oath of office.
The SWS opinion poll conducted late last month showed the President getting a “very good” satisfaction rating, with 76 percent of Filipinos saying they were satisfied, 11 percent dissatisfied and 13 percent undecided.
These scores will play a significant role in a peace deal that the two sides are expected to come up with to end more than 50 years of armed conflict between them.
Duterte’s demonstration of an apparently independent foreign policy, unencumbered by the political and economic might of the world’s only remaining superpower the United States, should endear him to his perceived communist friends – and the huddled masses – but will certainly leave Washington aghast at the sudden turn of events in its former colony.
To be sure, the last thing that President Barack Obama or whoever succeeds him in November wants to happen is for Joma Sison and company to possibly share power with Duterte.
But it seems for the Philippine leader, there is no turning back.
Duterte has declared that everything he does is for the common good – he wants the next generation of Filipinos to live in a drug-free country, he wants Filipinos to enjoy lasting peace under a democracy, not any other form of government, thanks but no thanks to those who have accused him of sleeping with the enemy.
The President and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines know the rules of the game but they have to play their cards exceptionally well to ace it for the nation, not for Duterte or Sison.
The masses will buy what Duterte is offering them, only because they trust him and he speaks their language, and these are more than enough for them to approve of the peace agreement.