‘Prisoner’s dilemma’

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Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

IT is a tradition in the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University for the Dean to teach a Capstone class. It caps one’s academic training with a full semester on politics and “prisoner’s dilemma.”

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The prisoner’s dilemma is a “standard example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two completely ‘rational’ individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest to do so.” It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at the Rand Corporation think tank in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence rewards and named it, “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992).

And this is exactly where we are on the peace talk with the CPP-NPA-NDF. The gains have been encompassing but the thorny issues on the release of prisoners and the sudden attacks by domestic elements of the NPA appear to have put a dent on the sincerity of the Sison-led group. Or, are we talking to the right leader, if at all? Would PRRD be on track if he deals with the domestic leaders on a province-by-province basis? Or wait to reconvene after a so-called realignment of the front?

PRRD is an avowed supporter of the cause of the CPP. He launched a unilateral offensive when he won the presidency. He first announced his intent to have a peace agreement with the Left. He called Jose Ma. Sison, his former mentor in college, and appointed three known members of the front, giving them the social welfare, agrarian reform and poverty alleviation posts even before convening a formal meeting with Sison and company. He had a full deck and aces but it seems a hardening of positions has led to an impasse.

As we all know, communism is long dead yet our insurgency is Asia’s longest running conflict and has claimed around 30,000 lives since the 1960s. From 26,000 members in the 1980s, its membership is now down to 4,000 and thrives in the poorest localities of rural Philippines. The long-term solution though is clear and it is dependent on government addressing socio-economic and political root causes of the unrest. If PRRD is able to do this, then the cancellation of talks may just be a strategic ploy.

The CPP-NPA-NDF was declared by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO, on August 9, 2002. According to the US State Department, the NPA is a Maoist group formed in 1969 with the aim of overthrowing the government through protracted guerrilla warfare. FTOs are designated by the US Secretary of State in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities. Accordingly, it is only PRRD who can request for the delisting of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

In a prisoner’s dilemma, it is implied that the “prisoners will have no opportunity to reward or punish their partner other than the prison sentences they get, and that their decision will not affect their reputation in the future. Because betraying a partner offers a greater reward than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray, when they would get a better reward if they both kept silent. In reality, humans display a systemic bias towards cooperative behavior in this and similar games, much more so than predicted by simple models of ‘rational’ self-interested action.” A model based on a “different kind of rationality, where people forecast how the game would be played if they formed coalitions and then maximized their forecasts, has been shown to make better predictions of the rate of cooperation in this and similar games, given only the payoffs of the game.”

An extended “iterated” version of prisoner’s dilemma also exists, where the “classic game is played repeatedly between the same prisoners, and consequently, both prisoners continuously have an opportunity to penalize the other for previous decisions. If the number of times the game will be played is known to the players, then (by backward induction) two classically rational players will betray each other repeatedly, for the same reasons as the single-shot variant. In an infinite or unknown length game, there is no fixed optimum strategy, and prisoner’s dilemma tournaments have been held to compete and test algorithms.”

Some say bluffs are givens in a prisoner’s dilemma. Others are able to read the situation well thereby playing the game well. More like a one-eyed monster pretending to be one yet seeing to the patch allows one to be strategic and play the negotiating table in full-house fashion.

PRRD launched the volley while his appointed negotiators were on the table, trying to hammer out an agreement. Clearly, he calls the shots. The unilateral ceasefires were lifted “following a disagreement over the NDF’s demand to free hundreds of people whom it claims to be political prisoners.” The NDF demanded the release of 400 prisoners invoking the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed in 1998. The government has released 23 rebel leaders, with some of them joining the peace talks. PRRD was quoted as saying, “we started with 18 and we came up with 23 leaders and now it’s 400. If that’s the case, we might as well surrender.”

The other reason for the lifting of the ceasefire from the side of government were the killing of three military troopers in Bukidnon and the kidnap of two others. Consequently, PRRD said the peace talks would remain canceled “unless there is a compelling reason that will benefit the interest of the nation.”

Are peace talks a zero-sum game? When models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision makers are made, one tries to lessen uncertainty in decision making. Hence, in a peace process, staying on the table is critical. Doors should not be closed. Insisting on finding a common ground is vital. So, we rest and mend the aches and decide again to live another day for country?

Clearly, “if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

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1 Comment

  1. There are more deserving reformed prisoners who are overdue for parole release, many were at one time law abiding and productive members of society convicted rightly or wrongly for one mistake. These first time offenders have served their sentence with good behavior but are denied their good conduct allowance promised under the revised penal code, all because of bureaucratic red tape, there are so many of these reformed prisoners overcrowding our jails awaiting release.

    Whereas the so called political prisoners (communist rebels) who have taken up-arms against the Republic continuously refuse to be reformed of their criminal ways yet demand release. Should they not be classified as recidivist or parole risks, the same as professional or organized criminal members?