Lo­cal­ized talks?

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RES­I­DENT Ro­drigo Duterte’s love-hate re­la­tion­ship with the rev­o­lu­tion­ary left has taken an in­ter­est­ing twist with his sup­port of the call by his daugh­ter, Davao City Mayor Sara, for a lo­cal­ized peace ini­tia­tive. This means that even with the scut­tling of the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the govern­ment of the Repub­lic of the Philip­pines (GRP) and the Na­tional Demo­cratic Front (NDF) the Pres­i­dent has not let go al­to­gether the pos­si­bil­ity of re­open­ing the talks.

After his re­turn from his re­cent trip to Ja­pan, the Pres­i­dent said he would never aban­don his quest for peace. This even as the mil­i­tary had said it is pre­par­ing for an all-out war against the com­mu­nist rebels and even talked about end­ing the in­sur­gency in 2018, an im­pos­si­ble task con­sid­er­ing how the CPP sur­vived the in­tense war waged against it by the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship.

I don’t think, how­ever, that lo­cal­ized peace talks would hap­pen now. Lo­cal­ized peace talks did hap­pen in the months after the 1986 Edsa peo­ple power up­ris­ing when Cory Aquino was pres­i­dent. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary left learned one bit­ter les­son from that: it un­nec­es­sar­ily ex­posed the rebel’s lo­cal lead­er­ship and forces, a dis­ad­van­tage when the talks got scut­tled. The mil­i­tary was able to gather a trove of in­for­ma­tion about the CPP be­cause of those talks.

In Cebu, NDF rep­re­sen­ta­tives that sur­faced in the 1986-87 talks were a for­mer priest, a for­mer sem­i­nar­ian and a for­mer Univer­sity of the Philip­pines (UP) stu­dent. They sat across a panel com­posed of Cebu Pro­vin­cial Govern­ment lead­ers. Months after the talks failed, the for­mer sem­i­nar­ian was killed in what the rebels claimed was a deep pen­e­tra­tion agent op­er­a­tion and the for­mer UP stu­dent was ar­rested. The armed group that provided se­cu­rity to the NDF panel was ex­posed.

That’s one of the rea­sons the rebels now pre­fer talks at the na­tional level and one that is bro­kered by a third party, in this case the Nether­lands. The NDF panel is now com­posed mostly of for­mer or cur­rent po­lit­i­cal de­tainees or those who are in its in­ter­na­tional branch. That means the lead­er­ship that is run­ning the day-to-day af­fairs of the com­mu­nist re­bel­lion is not ex­posed.

In­ci­den­tally, the Pres­i­dent had, at the height of the siege in Marawi City by Is­lamic State (IS) mil­i­tants, vowed to go all­out after the com­mu­nist rebels once the Marawi threat was de­feated. Marawi has been lib­er­ated, and this is prob­a­bly why the mil­i­tary is al­ready sharp­en­ing its claws, so to speak, against the rebels. I just hope that things would not come to that be­cause that would be bloody and the col­lat­eral dam­age would be, in the long-term, big.

Un­like the IS and other mil­i­tant groups like the Abu Sayyaf, the war waged by the CPP is a com­pli­cated one. For one, it is na­tion­wide in scope and the strat­egy used is guer­rilla war­fare. And the rebels are con­scious of build­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tional sup­port from sec­tors like the peas­ants, work­ers, stu­dents and other in­tel­lec­tu­als, etc. And they are pre­pared to wage war for the long haul.

That is why since the be­gin­ning I have been sup­port­ive of the path of peace, or the con­duct of a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment of the armed con­flict. If the war can be ended with­out fir­ing an­other shot, the bet­ter for all of us.

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