The long road to peace

Southeast Asia Globe - - Feature / Politics -

Per­haps no is­sue has been more thor­oughly eclipsed by Duterte’s sav­age war on drugs than his ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate peace be­tween the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment and dual in­sur­gen­cies in the na­tion’s south – a Maoist coali­tion and a Mus­lim se­ces­sion­ist move­ment that both turned vi­o­lent dur­ing the reign of dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos in the late 1960s.

While stress­ing that Bayan in no way sup­ported Duterte’s un­re­lent­ing crack­down on those most vul­ner­a­ble to the Philippines’ drug epi­demic, El­lorin main­tained that the one-sided nar­ra­tive ped­dled by in­ter­na­tional me­dia only served to un­der­cut the more nu­anced re­al­ity of the pres­i­dent’s do­mes­tic pol­icy.

“I think the cor­po­rate me­dia is craft­ing a very dan­ger­ous and very un­bal­anced nar­ra­tive to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity on the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion,” she said. “While there has been wall-to-wall cov­er­age and drum-beat­ing on Duterte’s drug war, there has been zero cov­er­age on the peace process that the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­spon­si­ble for re­sum­ing. And that’s some­thing that ac­tu­ally stands to af­fect, in a pos­i­tive way, tens of mil­lions of Filipinos who are suf­fer­ing from poverty and land­less­ness and job­less­ness.”

A man trusted by both mem­bers of Min­danao’s Mus­lim Moro com­mu­nity and many of the groups tied to the com­mu­nists – Duterte was once a stu­dent of the founder and leader of the Com­mu­nist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Si­son – Duterte’s prom­ise to pur­sue an end to Asia’s long­est-run­ning com­mu­nist in­sur­gency played a prom­i­nent part in his bid for the pres­i­den­tial palace.

El­lorin said that Duterte’s will­ing­ness to en­gage with the long-ma­ligned com­mu­nists, in­clud­ing a re­cent state­ment sug­gest­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion was open to land re­dis­tri­bu­tion as a po­ten­tial agrar­ian re­form, was un­prece­dented amongst Philip­pine pres­i­dents.

“What’s be­ing ne­go­ti­ated on the ta­ble, these are not ma­jor, trans­for­ma­tive things – it’s just the abil­ity for peas­ants to own land and ba­si­cally to mod­ernise and in­dus­tri­alise agri­cul­ture in the Philippines,” she said. “I think these are ba­sic things peo­ple want.”

De­spite pop­u­lar sup­port, the pres­i­dent ap­pears to be play­ing a dan­ger­ous game. Af­ter 50 years of bit­ter civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 Filipinos, both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Duterte’s beloved po­lice force re­main deeply re­sent­ful of the pres­i­dent’s ties with the far left. And in a na­tion that is no stranger to mil­i­tary takeovers, Thomp­son said Duterte has ev­ery rea­son to be ner­vous.

“Duterte is tak­ing a risk and he knows that,” he said. “It’s also the rea­son he spends a lot of time with the mil­i­tary: to make sure they’re on his side.”

Ac­cord­ing to El­lorin, it is a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion for the pres­i­dent so of­ten touted as the Philippines’ strong­man.

“Duterte is try­ing to bal­ance his al­liances right now with… anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist groups as well as be­ing com­man­der-in-chief of a mil­i­tary that is grow­ing more and more dis­grun­tled by his poli­cies – es­pe­cially in the sense of re­open­ing talks with the revo­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment,” she said. “That is some­thing that the Armed Forces of the Philippines ab­so­lutely de­spises. For 50 years of a civil war, they’ve been in­doc­tri­nated to ba­si­cally kill rebels with­out ques­tion – and now you’ve got a pres­i­dent say­ing we need to sit down and talk to them.”

Thomp­son said that Duterte’s peace process – if successful – could be the one area




where the charis­matic leader af­fects real, last­ing change dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

“It’s hard for me to tell whether a deal can ac­tu­ally be made, but cer­tainly Duterte seems very se­ri­ous about it,” he said. “So one would have to say that the chances of some­thing be­ing set­tled maybe even this year are prob­a­bly pretty good.”

Philip­pine po­lice es­cort Leila de Lima, a se­na­tor de­tained on drug charges that many as­sume to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, to a lo­cal court in March (top); Duterte greets Myan­mar State Coun­sel­lor Aung San Suu Kyi be­fore the start of the 30th Asean Sum­mit in Manila in April

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