SOME military figures expectedly hate the announcements by President-elect Rody Duterte and his spokesmen that he is seriously inclined to start peace talks with the communists, and that he is willing to grant amnesty to persons detained by the Philippine government for being communist rebels. About 500-plus Filipinos are detained in military custody after having been captured in raids on New People’s Army by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or in bloody encounters between NPA rebels and AFP troops.
Among them are Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, the detained alleged leaders of the CPP and its armed wing the NPA. The latest reports say Mr. Duterte is going to release the couple so they could join in the peace talks.
But some of these 500 or so detainees, the Philippine Communist Party’s highest leaders in Utrtecht and in the Philippines say, are not NPA combatants at all but members of Communist Party peace panels arrested on their way to or from peace or truce talks with government counterparts. Thus, these are “political prisoners,” persons jailed by the government not for having committed any crime or taken up arms as NPA rebel soldiers but for being sympathizers of the CPP or suspected of being CPP members.
A news item reports that incoming President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday he would seek an early start to peace talks with communist rebels and free detained leaders when he takes office in end-June. The report also said Mr. Duuterte has offered safe passage back to the Philippines for Jose Maria Sison, CPP founder. Joma Sison lives and operates in Utrecht, the Netherlands, as senior consultant of the CPP—though everybody knows that he is the CPP’s main leader and source of political and strategic wisdom. He had fled to Europe and lived in exile since nearly 30 years ago after attempts during the Cory Aquino presidency to end the CPP-NPA insurgency.
Fighting the CPP-NPA rebellion eats hundreds of millions from the Philippine national budget. Some 30,000 people have been killed in this communist rebellion. NPA-dominated areas are always poor and deprived of local and national government socio-economic development support. Anti-communists in these places are executed if the NPA thinks they are agents of the government military. Their families flee and they become refugees in neighboring towns and villages.
President BS Aquino, soon after taking office in 2010, revived peace talks with the Reds. But these were ended in 2013 because, Aquino said, the CPP-NPA side was insincere and did not really want a political settlement. The Reds demanded their jailed comrades be released as part of the government’s token of sincerity.
The news yesterday mentioned that President-elect Duterte had met a rebel emissary in Davao 10 days ago and that he soon be sending two members of his future Cabinet to Norway for preparatory meetings with maybe Joma and the other rebel communists in exile. Norway has for decades been serving as a mediator between the Reds and the Philippine government. Mr. Duterte was quoted in yesterday’s news as saying he has commissioned his emissaries to go to Oslo and prepare with the rebels the “framework and agenda” that he and Joma Sison would talk about. He also said the two Cabinet emissaries would then “maybe accompany Jose Maria Sison home.” Mr. Duterte said he would then, once his emissaries succeeded in forging an agreement with the rebels, “release all the political prisoners.”
That’s okay with us, and we hope it’s okay also to most of the Filipino people—including most of the military. Provided, of course, that the agreement “hammered out” with the Reds includes a tight and credible undertaking to lay down their arms.