Why Duterte walked away from the table: A reflection on the NDF peace process

Regarding the military and national police, the end of the talks comes in the midst of escalating operations against Moro jihadist groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Maute Group, and their foreign fighters. Faced with the prospect of a war on all fronts, the security establishment evinces select concerns. Throughout the talks, the Armed Forces have downplayed the NPA as mere bandits and terrorists rather than a revolutionary insurgent threat. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana opposed the talks from the get-go, because he was convinced they would only allow the NPA to gather their strength. Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa appeared more ambivalent towards the talks, reasoning that so long as peace was attained, it did not matter whether it came from talks or fighting. To an extent, Lorenzana’s and Dela Rosa’s perspectives are understandable; the NPA did continue to extort communities and persons of interest, even committing attacks during the ceasefire, albeit at a slower rate than what was seen after the ceasefire.

A lack of faith in the peace process, however, does not necessarily translate into a desire for war. As the siege of Marawi continues, Lorenzana conveys an increasingly sober appreciation of his situation. By his own estimate, the military costs of the siege amount to P2.5 billion to P3 billion alone, without taking into account the costs of sheltering and caring for displaced persons.  Despite this expenditure, Lorenzana believes that operations in Marawi may continue for another month or two. Despite the NPA’s demonstrated ability to inflict considerable losses against security forces and civilians, there are no signs that the military or police are taking more aggressive actions against the NPA, suggesting that the security establishment understands how costly such escalation would be at this time.

Barring a ceasefire resulting from mutual exhaustion and civil society pressure, an escalation is likely. Perhaps Lorenzana and Dela Rosa were prescient in dismissing the utility of talks, but they should not be overconfident in what they can achieve through prolonged counterinsurgency. If local administrations are further enervated under martial law while investors lose confidence in the stability of the region, a protracted campaign against the resilient NPA will likely serve only to compound Mindanao’s misery, and even spread its woes beyond its borders. – Rappler.com

Luke Lischin is an Academic Assistant at the National War College whose work has been published in outlets such as The Diplomat and the Brookings Institution's Southeast Asia View. Luke’s research interests include political violence in the Philippines and the greater Southeast Asian region.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National War College.