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Monday, June 24, 2024

Peace talks with Reds going pfft?

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“The government says ‘total victory’ shall have been achieved only if the last NPA fighter has been neutralized, whether in the battlefield or by surrendering”

No doubt, peace advocates rejoiced when last year, on Nov. 23, the national government and the National Democratic Front signed a Joint Statement in Oslo, Norway, agreeing to a principled and peaceful resolution to the 55-year-old armed conflict.

Now, six months later, there’s no clear indication either side is preparing for the resumption of the peace talks that began in 1987 under the Cory Aquino government and proceeded in fits and starts under succeeding administrations.

The Duterte administration tried to strike a deal with the NDF and even went to the extent of releasing from detention some of the leaders of the rebel group so they could serve as “peace consultants.”

But Duterte terminated the talks in 2017 after it became clear the talks were going nowhere since the New People’s Army kept up the armed struggle in the countryside even as rebel leaders faced the government representatives across the negotiating table.

While the November 2023 announcement by President Marcos Jr. of his intention to resume peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF was met with approval by various sectors, even the government’s security cluster consisting of the National Security Council, Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, reports indicated that there was grumbling within the military establishment over the wisdom of resuming peace talks with the rebel troika.

But the AFP Chief of Staff has given assurances the military would follow the chain of command and defer to the policy decision of the Commander-in-Chief.

At this point, while the NDF has agreed to hold peace talks with the Marcos Jr. administration, the CPP and the NPA do not appear eager to come to the negotiating table.

“The Oslo Joint Statement is a first half-step in the long march leading to the resumption of formal peace negotiations, and in the even longer road of achieving the people’s aspiration for a just and lasting peace,” CPP spokesperson Marco Valbuena said.

He explained to allow the negotiations to move forward, the government should release all the NDFP peace consultants and repeal the “terrorist designation” of the CPP-NPA-NDF.

These, he said, are “critical and practical measures, without which it is doubtful that peace negotiations can even proceed.”

The CPP also urged Marcos to dismantle the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and to release all of the more than 800 political prisoners locked up in various jails. The dismantling of NTF-ELCAC and the release of political prisoners will make “the march towards peace to move forward quickly,” it said.

Will the government accede to these demands of the rebel side?

We think that’s highly unlikely.

The anniversary statements of the CPP on Dec. 26 last year and of the NPA on March 29 indicate that the rebel forces are in fact being urged to intensify the armed struggle so that the revolutionary situation can advance to the next higher phase, which is the advanced stage of the strategic defensive, which means they aspire for parity with the AFP at sometime in the future.

The AFP will most probably scoff at this as a pipe dream of the Maoist rebels.

In fact, the military is saying that the 55-year-old armed insurgency is on the decline and it is only a matter of time—the end of this year, we’re told by press dispatches of the DND and the AFP—before the government attains “strategic victory” over the NPA.

The government is close to “strategic victory” by the end of this

year because it claims the communist rebellion is left with about 1,500 members and 11 “weakened” guerrilla fronts as of the end of 2023.

That’s according to a report by the NTF-ELCAC, which said the number of rebels stood at 1,576 by the end of last year, lower by 21.5 percent than the 2,008 recorded in 2022.

Rebel firearms, meanwhile, dropped by 22.6 percent to 1,406 in 2023 from 1,817 two years ago.

The agency also claimed only 11 “weakened” guerrilla fronts remained as of the end of 2023. “No active guerrilla fronts remain,” the task force said, adding that 78 guerrilla fronts have been dismantled as of 2017.

The government says “total victory” shall have been achieved only if the last NPA fighter has been neutralized, whether in the battlefield or by surrendering.

When that will come, however, is still up in the air. (Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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