The long road to peace
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
I THINK THE CORPORATE MEDIA IS CRAFTING A VERY
DANGEROUS AND VERY UNBALANCED NARRATIVE TO THE INTERNATIONAL
COMMUNITY ON THE DUTERTE ADMINISTRATION”
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