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.