communist insurgency

[OPINION] Still no peace talks. What’s to be done?

Soliman M. Santos Jr

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[OPINION] Still no peace talks. What’s to be done?
It's been two years since a land mine explosion by communist rebels killed innocent civilians in Masbate. Where's justice?

Two years after the 6 June 2021 Masbate land mine incident, which resulted in the New People’s Army (NPA) admission of killing two Absalon family members and injuring another who was a minor, it is time to go beyond the usual propaganda and counter-propaganda by the protagonists of the local communist armed conflict.  

Going beyond that may have to do more with seeking truth, accountability and justice rather than achieving peace that resolves that armed conflict more politically than militarily, if that can be helped, to significantly reduce the human and economic costs to the country.

Peace, if it can be helped.  But both sides are clearly not disposed to honest-to-goodness peace negotiations to resolve their armed conflict. Just ask them or their top leaders.  

President Bongbong Marcos, Vice President Sara Duterte, and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año are all going for the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) way of simply ending the local communists, especially the top central and regional leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They have junked national-level peace talks in favor of “localized peace efforts” to win over the local-level CPP-NPA rank-and-file, and their local mass bases.  

And those top Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) security officials say that they are winning this war.  Even some independent observers say the “communists [are] crumbling in the Philippines.”

So, why still talk peace with them, especially the hardline top leaders who stick to a protracted people’s war (PPW) via the armed struggle?

‘Second US-Marcos regime’

But the CPP-NPA also says they are winning this war, despite admitted setbacks in some guerrilla fronts and the undeniable loss in the field or due to illness of a significant number of senior leaders, including octogenarian CPP guru Jose Maria Sison himself and his successor leaders the septuagenarian spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, in the past year. 

The more than five decades protractedness of their people’s war is seen by the CPP-NPA as a reaffirmation rather than a refutation of its correctness, because it has continued to survive, persevere, and even thrive, regularly replenished by new blood from the student youth and the peasantry.  

The two most recent CPP and NPA anniversary statements, post-Sison, hardly mentioned peace talks even as a tertiary tactic under the PPW strategy, currently waged against “the second US-Marcos regime.”  

Sison’s widow Julieta de Lima, who is the Interim Chairperson of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) which is led by the CPP and NPA, had already said last year “There is yet no basis for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks…  So far Marcos II wants to continue Duterte’s all-out war policy and the revolutionary movement has no choice but to fight the counterrevolution.”  The CPP has, in fact, called on the NPA at its 54th anniversary last March 29 to “Stir up and spread the flames of people’s war for national freedom and democracy,” though admittedly still in the PPW first stage which is the strategic defensive. Two more stages to go: strategic stalemate and then strategic offensive.      

In the meantime, what is to be done?  What can be done?  

Accountability and justice

We had already previously advocated that both sides should follow the rules of war as one of the paths to peace – a minimum necessary trust and confidence building measure of addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities by way of better respect for human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL). 

These are, among others, matters of truth, accountability and justice. The problem is that both sides cannot be relied on for the truth because this is the proverbial first casualty in war, where propaganda is more important than the actual military or human rights-IHL score.  

Both sides also do not trust each other’s mechanisms for accountability and justice, and so they both assert their own respective mechanisms to deal with their violations of the laws. 

But their respective justice systems do not inspire enough confidence in them.

Must Read

[OPINION] On the new Masbate incidents: Here we go again

[OPINION] On the new Masbate incidents: Here we go again

Let us take the Masbate land mine incident as a case in point.  

On the government side, this case has reached the Philippine courts where it is still undergoing trial. There are no less than six cases against all 24 alleged NPA Masbate elements led by Eddie Rosero a.k.a. “Ka Star” –  one crime against humanity (RA 9851), one war crime (RA 9851), two counts of murder, one attempted murder, and one terrorism charge (RA 11479). Initially, there were two other criminal charges:  illegal possession of firearms (RA 10591) and of explosives (RA 9561), but the Masbate City Prosecution Office dismissed them as already “absorbed” in  the other charges.  

The terrorism case is being heard in RTC Branch 23 Naga City because this is the Supreme Court-designated lone “Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC)” for the Bicol region, while all the five other remaining cases are being heard in court of origin RTC Branch 48 Masbate.  

Against this segmented or disjointed arrangement, we wonder whether all the cases had better be consolidated in just one court for considerations of consistency, convenience and economy for the courts, the prosecution and the defense.  

Actually, before the transfer of the terrorism case to the Naga ATC, the Masbate court had already rendered a Demurrer Resolution acquitting the first arrested accused alleged NPA spotter Mariel Suson, who is a public elementary school teacher, in all six cases due to the materially inconsistent and not credible testimony of the lone prosecution witness who purportedly identified her.  

Thereafter, several more accused were arrested or surrendered voluntarily, including two more Suson sisters.  Their cases are still be heard before the Masbate court (the five non-Terrorism cases) and the Naga ATC (the lone Terrorism case). 

In the meantime, early last May 9, a certain Dindo Monsanto alias “Boy” or “Ka Ruel,” alleged commanding officer of the Regional Operations Command (ROC) of the Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC) and also a member of the Central Committee (CC) of the CPP, was arrested in Malabon City by a collaborative Philippine Army (PA) 9th Infantry Division (9ID) and Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) targeted operation.  

The 9ID said Monsanto “played a pivotal role in coordinating and executing” several major operations of the CPP-NPA in the country, including the Masbate landmining incident. The problem is that he is not among the named 25 accused Eddie Rosero, et al., with no other accused listed by only an alias name, no accused alias “Boy” and “Ka Ruel” that may correspond to Monsanto.  

This new development, aside from the above-said segmented or disjointed trials of the related terrorism and non-terrorism cases arising from just one incident, as well as the early dismissal of the dubious charges against a public elementary school teacher, certainly do not inspire confidence in the government’s cases against the charged perpetrators of the Masbate landmining incident.

Will these cases result in justice deserved by the two killed and one injured civilian victims and their Absalon family, and by the true NPA perpetrators? (Next: Go beyond propaganda, render justice) – Rappler.com

Soliman M. Santos Jr. is a retired judge of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Camarines Sur; a longtime human rights and IHL lawyer as well as a peace advocate on both the Communist and Moro fronts; and author of several books on those fronts of war and peace, the latest being How do you solve a problem like the GRP-NDFP peace process? Part 2 (2022) published by Sulong Peace Inc., Quezon City.

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