MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is serious about starting yet another round of peace talks with communist rebels, but he wants it done in the Philippines, and accompanied by a ceasefire that’s serious, too, said National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr on Friday, December 6.
This comes a day after Duterte said he would send Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to talk to exiled communist party founder and leader Jose Maria Sison in the Netherlands as a “last card” to end the decades-long insurgency.
“Remember na nung bago matigil 'yung peace talks, sinabi na ng Presidente na ang gusto niyang venue ng peace talks will be here, so minimum requirement ‘yon,” Esperon told reporters on the sidelines of the change-of-command ceremony for the commanding general of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
(Remember that even before the peace talks ceased, the President already said he wanted the venue of the peace talks to be here, so that’s the minimum requirement.)
"There will be a declaration of a bilateral ceasefire na may mga rules din. Hindi puwedeng magsunog ang NPA ng construction equipment. Hindi puwedeng gagala-gala sila,” Esperon added, alluding to the NPA’s alleged violations of earlier ceasefires.
(There will be a declaration of a bilateral ceasefire that’s got rules, too. The NPA can’t be burning up construction equipment. They can’t be going about.)
The government held peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), from 2016 to 2017 in Oslo, Norway. It was early in Duterte’s term and, at the time, he was determined to negotiate an end to the insurgency. He invited communist leaders into Malacañang, and appointed several of them to Cabinet positions.
The negotiations broke down when Duterte accused the communists of violating a ceasefire. A gun attack on a police car that resulted in the death of a 4-month old child in Bukidnon drove the President to formally terminate peace talks in November 2017.
In December 2018, he ordered the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to hold “localized peace talks” between local government units and individual NPA fronts.
As the government tries to attract NPA guerrillas to defect and return to civilian life, the police and military have resumed pursuing them. Security forces have extended their crackdown to progressive groups that they accuse of acting as legal fronts for the CPP-NPA-NDFP.
'The same thing, either way'
On Thursday, December 5, Sison told Rappler in a message, "The NDFP has never said that it will never talk to [the government of the Philippines] under Duterte even after his termination of the peace talks. If Duterte wants to talk and takes the concrete steps about it, the NDFP has to consider seriously what he proposes. The NDFP has to be open to any possibility for the benefit of the Filipino people.”
Esperon thinks the communists do not have much of a choice.
“[The NTF-ELCAC] is really going to the barangays where [the CPP-NPA] still have their mass base, and we are confident that we could get them because this is the synchronization and harmonization of all agencies to bring services to the countryside,” Esperon said on Friday.
With or without wholesale peace talks with the communist party’s top leadership, the government’s divide-and-conquer campaign to lure or force guerrillas to stop fighting would continue anyway, Esperon added, and it would lead to the same result.
“Ang ending niyan is sustainable peace. Ganu’n din,” he said. (Its ending is sustainable peace. It’s the same thing.) – with a report from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.