It took the death of three soldiers with about 76 slugs in their bodies for the President to make an about-face and terminate the ongoing peace negotiations with the CPP/NDF. And in keeping with his customary decision process, this move was done so abruptly that it caught even his closest advisers by surprise. He now considers Joma Sison and the CPP/NPA terrorists, ordered the arrest of all NDF leaders who had been granted bail so that they could participate in the peace negotiations, directed government negotiators still in Rome to come home and then told the Armed Forces to go on offensive operations against the CPP/NPA. It is now back to square one. What now?
Is this decision of the President permanent or will he again change his mind as he often does? Most of the leaders in government are urging the President to continue the peace process but it seems that he has come to the realization that negotiating with the CPP/NDF is difficult—tricky business, to say the least. While government panels change every time there is a new administration, the negotiating team from the CPP/NDF have remained the same with Luis Jalandoni heading or advising the CPP/NDF panel and Joma Sison directing everything from the background.
Also, each new administration has its own agenda to pursue while the ultimate objective of the CPP/NDF is constant: To take over the reins of government.
This time, however, the CPP/NDF may have pushed the envelope too far. Of all the recent presidents, it is the current president who is prepared to give the CPP/NDF the most. To the consternation of many, he has appointed members of the NDF to his cabinet. The NDF reciprocated by calling him brother revolutionary who has supported the movement for the past 30 years. This President also released core leaders of the CPP/NDF so they can participate in the peace negotiations, something that previous administrations have refused to do. To top it all, in the recent anniversary of the CPP, the head of the government negotiating panel attended one program in Mindanao. It is a gesture unheard of in the annals of this conflict.
Maybe the CPP/NDF thought that if they keep on pushing, the President will eventually give in. They forget that the President is also the leader of the vast majority of the people who do not agree with the ideology of the CPP/NDF no matter how imperfect the current system of government is. When the news broke out that the President has terminated the peace negotiations, Luis Jalandoni went to the air waves and in many of his interviews, accused the AFP of killing their own men in order to scuttle the peace process.
It was a preposterous and unbelievable accusation that should not be given any serious thought. When asked whether it is possible that the CPP/NDF does not control all elements in the NPA, the best that he was able to do was to side-track the issue. He simply put all the blame on the government side.
My own experiences in the anti-insurgency war was that there were many NPA units operating independently simply because of the difficulty of communications and control. Instead, he went back to using the old-style revolutionary jargon about land reform and the people being sympathetic to their cause. How large is the armed cadre of the NPA and how big is its mass base? Current intelligence estimates put the armed cadre at around 3,800 to 4,000 armed men with about half a million mass base. Even if one adds 20 percent, that is less than one percent of the population. This is also reflected during elections. While some of them win as party-list members of the House of Representatives, not one among them has come close to winning a senatorial seat which is perhaps a better gauge of how the people of the Philippines view and think of their political ideology.
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With the signing of the Columbian government and FARC of their peace deal, the Philippines has now taken over as having the longest insurgency in the world. If there is any lesson that the Columbian peace deal should teach us, it is that negotiating for real peace is an arduous task. But it can be done if both sides go to the negotiating table with sincere objectives to reform the system. It will not work if one goes to the negotiating table to put one over the other.
My own thinking is that after letting off steam, both sides should go back to the negotiating table and resume talking toward honest-to-goodness peace. If both parties could not agree on a comprehensive deal in one sitting, then take it one step at a time. What could be reasonably agreed upon? Can this be realistically implemented? If the result is good, then both parties could proceed until all outstanding issues are resolved. Hopefully, both sides have learned something from the breakdown of negotiations. The government negotiating panel should control its exuberance and not appear willing to give in to every demand from the other side just to be able to sign a piece of paper.
For the CPP/NDF, pushing the envelope so far is not helpful just because they consider the President brethren. I hope the next time around, there will be sincerity from both sides. Sison and Jalandoni can still fulfill their lifelong revolutionary agenda and President Duterte can still be that one leader who solved the insurgency problem of this country.