ONE of the first moves of President Duterte when he assumed office in 2016 was to contact the leader of the Comunist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to propose peace talks. He was evidently confident that he and his old mentor at the Lyceum of the Philippines, CCP Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison, would be able to find a way to end the 49-year-old rebellion of the CPP’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA).
In the months that followed, considerable progress was made on basic political and economic issues, but the negotiators were never able to agree on a common bilateral ceasefire; each side had its own ceasefire. There were constant encounters in the field. On Nov. 11, 2017, the President said, the NPA ambushed a police vehicle in Bukidnon, and a four-month-old baby girl in a following vehicle was killed. He signed a proclamation on Nov. 23 terminating the peace talks.
Fighting has resumed since then, but the government has been able to convince thousands of NPA members to lay down their arms, with apparently very attractive incentives. Last month, a special envoy from Norway which is brokering the negotiations came to see President Duterte. Then last week, 61 members of the House of Representatives, members of various parties, signed House Resolution No. 1803 asking the President to resume the stalled peace talks.
It would indeed be a most welcome development if the peace talks can resume, but, as peace adviser Jesus Dureza pointed out last Sunday, this can happen only if there is “an enabling environment conducive to negotiations.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the CPP-NPA must show sincerity by agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire agreement. The talks had broken down last November because the CPP-NPA insisted that the talks could be held even while the fighting continued. “I don’t believe in that,” Lorenzana said. “If we talk, we should stop fighting first.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the needed “enabling environment” calls for the rebels to end their hostilities against civilians and government forces, end their extortion activities, lay down their arms, and return to the fold of the law.” This looks like a demand for a total capitulation on the part of the rebels and is not likely to be accepted. It should be enough that the fighting just stop, as Secretary Lorenzana pointed out.
It is now up to President Duterte to make the final decision on whether to resume the peace talks. He will want some indication of the rebels’ sincerity. An agreement on a common bilateral ceasefire would be a good sign.
Then the peace talks can truly resume. This initiative had been among the first he had taken when he became president in 2016. To end the decade-old rebellion of the NPA, one of the world’s longest running conflicts, would be a major step forward for our country.