Marcos Jr. administration

Aquino general’s ‘informal visit’ to Joma sparked hope for talks under Marcos Jr.

Bea Cupin

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Aquino general’s ‘informal visit’ to Joma sparked hope for talks under Marcos Jr.

President Benigno S. Aquino III, assisted by Mrs. Bernardita Bautista, confers the Philippine Legion of Honor with the degree of Chief Commander on outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista during the Testimonial Review and AFP Change of Command Ceremony at the AFP General Headquarters Grandstand, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City Friday (July 18, 2014).

File photo by Ryan Lim/Malacañang Photo Bureau

In 2015, Sison said Bautista as peace negotiator was an 'insult' to the revolutionary movement. A meeting in 2022, before Sison's death, opens the avenue to peace talks.

PAMPANGA, Philippines – A new chapter to negotiate peace between the Philippine government and the half-century-long communist insurgency, dubbed as Asia’s longest armed rebellion, started with a “personal visit” of a retired military general to the late Joma Sison, founder and ex-chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

In a chance interview with reporters on the sidelines of the military leadership forum, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said Emmanuel Bautista, former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), was invited by the government of Norway to speak in Oslo. During the same visit, Norway invited Bautista to talk with Sison.

“Good this is, I think, maybe providential… nakita natin na nagkaroon ng maganda pag-uusap si (There was a good conversation between) General Bautista and the late Joma Sison,” said Galvez on Wednesday, November 29.

The day before, Galvez announced that the Philippine government and the CCP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), have agreed to a “principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.”

As Galvez faced the public in a briefing late afternoon Tuesday, November 28, so did the NDFP in a separate briefing.

“The visit [to the late Sison] created a good, confidence-building, and a relationship with General Bautista,” added Galvez.

Galvez, himself a former AFP chief, said the agreement between the Philippine government and the NDFP is “not a resumption of talks, nor a restart.”

“The future peace engagement is a fresh start of peace negotiations,” he said.

In the joint statement, the two sides cited “serious socioeconomic, environmental issues, and foreign security threats” in emphasizing the need to “unite” as a nation.

The Philippines’ national security policy under Marcos emphasized the danger of external threats as opposed to internal threats such as communist insurgency, local terror groups, and illegal drugs, which were priorities under former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Bautista’s first try as peace negotiator

Relations between erstwhile adversaries Bautista and Sison have not always been warm.

Back in 2015, towards the end of the late Benigno Aquino III’s administration, Bautista was nominated to be the government’s chief negotiator with the NDFP. Sison rejected the idea, calling it an “insult” to the revolutionary movement.

Bautista, during his stint as deputy chief of staff of operations, was one of the architects of Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan or Oplan Bayanihan. The communist movement blamed that anti-insurgency campaign for human rights abuses.

Galvez did not disclose when Bautista’s first conversation with Sison took place, but the former general was a participant in Oslo Forum held in June 2022, or before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s term started.

Informal discussions continued from that point until the signing of the joint statement on November 23. That would mean that these informal discussions have lasted through changes in the country’s defense leadership. Jose Faustino Jr. was Marcos’ first interim defense chief, followed by Galvez himself.

Gibo Teodoro took over the helm of the defense department for the second time in June 2023, when he was appointed Marcos’ first full-time Defense Secretary.

“The President really…nakita niya ‘yang maganda pagkakataon na pwedeng magkaroon ng opening sa ating bagong peace process,” said Galvez. (The President saw a good opportunity in opening a new peace process.)

Galvez hesitated to give a timeline of when actual talks would begin between the Philippine government and the NDFP but said “modalities” would be decided later.

He also promised “a lot of consultations” and the encouragement of a “national debate.”

“So we can see what will be the best way going forward,” he added.

Attempts at negotiating peace between the CPP, NDFP, and the New People’s Army on one side, and the Philippine government at the other, is probably among the longest in the world.

The first try under the second Marcos president’s administration, Galvez noted, involves “mostly retired generals and soldiers.”

Kasi nakikita nila na talagang kailangan magkaroon ng katihimikan. Nakita natin how many soldiers can die during conflict,” he added. (Because we see how important it is to have peace. We’ve seen how many soldiers can die during conflict.)

Military operations will not cease, despite the joint statement.

“The willingness of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to pursue peaceful means of effecting societal reforms, other than armed struggle, is also a welcome development. We expect that all members of the underground movement will follow its lead,” the AFP said in a statement.

It added: “On its part, the AFP will continue in its campaign to defeat all armed threats to the security of our people and state, the NPA included. We will sustain operational tempo to further weaken the NPA’s capability to sow violence in our peaceful communities.”

Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo signed on the Philippines’ behalf, while the NDFP was represented by national executive council member Luis Jalandoni.

Galvez and Bautista signed as witnesses while Juliet de Lima, negotiating panel interim chairperson and Coni Ledesma, negotiating panel member, were witnesses for the NDFP.

Kristina Lie Revheim signed as special representative to the Philippines for the Royal Norwegian Government. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.