Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too

Carmela Fonbuena
Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too
The government puts on hold the appointment of retired general Emmanuel Bautista as the new chief negotiator with the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), turned 46 on Sunday, March 29, as hopes dim for the resumption of talks to end Asia’s longest running insurgency.

Talks with the Philippine Left has become the other casualty – aside from the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – of the botched police operation that killed international terrorist Zulkifli bin hir or “Marwan” but also 67 Filipinos, among them 44 elite cops. (READ: Cardinal Quevedo: Junking BBL a ‘total disaster’)

“There were initial signs that were positive. But ever since Mamasapano, tumigil na naman (It stopped again). They (CPP) made declarations again against President Aquino and on the need to wait for the next administration,” Alex Padilla, the government’s chief negotiator with the CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), told Rappler in a phone interview Sunday. 

Bautista appointment on hold

Rappler learned the government also put on hold the appointment of retired Armed Forces chief General Emmanuel Bautista as the replacement of Padilla, who assumed as Philhealth chief following the collapse of talks in February 2013. (READ: Ex-AFP chief eyed as chief negotiator with NDF)

A source, who refused to be named, said: “It’s a useless appointment. Why appoint someone new and raise the hopes when wala naman sigurong mangyayari (nothing will likely happen).” 

“If there’s actual chance to have talks, that’s the time you need his appointment,” the source added.

Peace talks with the MILF and the NDF both looked promising as of late last year. Malacañang was looking forward to Congress passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will implement peace agreements with the dominant muslim group MILF.

The CPP wanted to resume talks, too. Bautista, who was on top of security operations for the January papal visit, was supposed to meet in February his NDFP counterparts as confidence building measure. (READ: CPP confirms talks with PH government)

But Mamasapano happened on January 25.

The February meeting that was supposed to discuss possible agreements for the coming elections did not happen. 

The CPP’s attitude towards Aquino in the aftermath of Mamasapano has left the peace panel doubtful of the other camp’s sincerity, leading them to withhold Bautista’s appointment.

CPP slams Aquino’s coverup

The CPP slammed President Aquino’s “cover-up” that is supposedly meant to exculpate himself and the US military of any culpability in the bloodiest operation in police history – the worst crisis to hit his administration so far.

Aquino received widespread criticism for breaking the chain of command when he allowed suspended police chief Director General Alan Purisima to continue his participation in the manhunt for Marwan while OIC police chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II were kept out of the loop. 

“The CPP has not really changed its tenor. It’s the pronouncements sometimes of the NDFP people na parang naiiba (that has changed),” said Padilla. (READ: Joma wants peace, the ground doesn’t – Padilla)

In an acknowledgment that there’s no more time for a peace agreement within Aquino’s term, Padilla said he is hopeful talks can resume after the 2016 elections.

“I really believe the insurgency cannot be finished through military means alone. The other side can never win through a revolution. Therefore, somewere along the line, we have to talk. Maybe not now. Maybe [in the] next administaation,” Padilla said.

Informal talks continue

But informal talks with point persons – not the peace panel representatives – continue. The source said Bautista, who now serves as executive director of the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice, and Peace, remains active in coming up with possible arrangements for the 2016 elections. 

The arrest last year of tagged CPP leaders  Benito Tiamzon and wife Wilma is believed to have motivated the CPP to resume talks with the government. (READ: Hope springs eternal for talks with Reds)

While they call for the release of the Tiamzons and several other CPP personalities in detention, the government is also interested in the reduction of violent clashes between the NPA and government troops.

The NPA strength is down from 25,000 fully armed rebels during its peak in the 80s to less than 4,000 today, based on military statistics. Despite the reduced number of communist guerillas, violent clashes still erupt often in remaining strongholds particularly in Northern Mindanao and, to some degree, in the Bicol region. – Rappler.com

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