Gov’t peace panel head wants out

MANILA, Philippines – After 3 years heading the government panel negotiating with the communist movement, a “frustrated and disappointed” Alexander Padilla now wants out of the peace process. 

“I am ready to move on,” Padilla told Rappler in an interview in his office at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (Philhealth) where he has been named as president and CEO.

In October 2010, President Benigno Aquino III named Padilla as head of the government panel to hold talks with leaders of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), who are based in Netherlands.

The NPA has been waging a four-decade-old insurgency, the longest in Asia. The guerrillas reached their peak in the early years of former President Corazon Aquino, but  turned into factions in the 1990s over disputes on strategy and tactics.

All Philippine presidents after dictator Ferdinand Marcos held peace talks with the NDF but never succeeded in crafting a peace pact with them. The military says there are 4,000 NPA rebels in rebel bailiwicks nationwide.

“Even when I was appointed (in 2010, I have manifested that) I shouldn’t go beyond the first half of the administration. I am still by that word,” Padilla, a former health undersecretary, pointed out. “I’ve already voiced my sentiments that I really want to concentrate on work where I can see progress.”

Special track

Padilla admitted being “frustrated” and “disappointed” over the outcome of his efforts to jumpstart the peace negotiations with the NDF.

“I had high hopes when I started this job because I was confident I could talk to them (NDFP) since I was once among them and that I am friends with most of those in the movement,” Padilla, a former anti-Marcos activist, said in Filipino. 

Padilla was looking forward to a breakthrough in the negotiations when NDF chairman Jose Maria Sison proposed a “special track” in December last year.

But in February this year, Sison backtracked from the proposal and insisted that the panel return to the “regular track” of the negotiations, Padilla said. 

The negotiations again resulted in a deadlock after government rejected the NDF’s proposal. 

“They didn’t realize siguro that we would start to put our foot down. They thought siguro we would keep on talking for the sake of talking. But we don’t want to fool the people na rin. Why, bakit pa?” Padilla said.

Padilla said he has discussed with Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles his plan to leave the GPH panel though he is still finishing reports on the talks.

“Maybe I have done my share. Maybe I have done as far as where I can go, as far as the peace process is concerned. It needs new blood, new mind, new initiative,” Padilla said. -