By Alex Magno (The Philippine Star), Feb 14, 2017
When President Rodrigo Duterte lifted government’s ceasefire declaration and ordered the troops to prepare for battle, the communists misread his intent.
Self-designated CPP chief Jose Ma. Sison taunted the President, calling him a “thug.” Other leftist leaders, playing out their own wishful thinking, called the President’s action an “emotional” one and expressed belief he would soon come around and continue the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
The name-calling did not faze Duterte. He basically declared the peace talks dead. He called the communist leaders “terrorists.” He called on the AFP to commence with an all-out war that treats the NPA as the Abu Sayyaf is treated.
The Army is just too happy to oblige the President. While the ceasefire declaration was in effect, the military took casualties from treacherous rebel attacks. Having spent so much time and effort capturing communist leaders over the years and prosecuting them in court, the military was not too eager to release the so-called “political prisoners.” They were, to begin with, unhappy with the release of notorious communist leaders to enable them to serve as “consultants” to the NDF peace panel.
President Duterte did plunge into the peace negotiations will full sincerity. As a confidence-building measure, we recruited leftist personalities to Cabinet and Sub-Cabinet positions. He worked for the release of the NDF “consultants.” He invited senior communist leaders to dine at the Palace and had phone conversations with the self-exiled leaders of the obsolete but irascible insurgency.
But being sincere is different from being naïve. One could not fault the President for his sincerity in pursuing the possibility of a negotiated political settlement with the communist movement. But when, despite the President’s generosity in spirit, the communists continued with their ambuscades and extortion activities, when they attacked an unarmed Army unit on a civic mission and proclaimed the soldiers fired first, they were pushing things until they snapped.
The President is not naïve. He knew what happened in the past negotiations, where the communists tried to wring small tactical benefits from government and then continued as usual with their stupid “people’s war.” It is amazing how the communist movement would go through large gestures only to win small things.
I consulted for the government peace panel during the Ramos years and therefore saw at first hand the dynamic of the communist side. Even then, we were not optimistic about the prospects for a political settlement. There was no consensus within the communist movement about this end-goal. There was no process within the movement to build that consensus.
We expressed our misgivings to FVR, telling him the communists just wanted some money, get some of their friends out of jail, and win some form of safe passage for the old men in Utrecht who were homesick. FVR always counseled us it is better to “talk-talk” than to “fight-fight.”
We had better success with Nur Misuari. We knew that from the start of our work. He negotiated with good will and an openness to explore new arrangements. He was a practical man. The communists in Utrecht did not have any of those virtues.
In the damaged corporate culture of the CPP, cynicism is synonymous with shrewdness. The cadres lie constantly and understand that as apt revolutionary behavior. They assume whatever posture the party directive of the moment tells them to.
Furthermore, there is little reason to believe the older cadres control the movement fully from the distance of their exile. In many areas, the NPA commanders nurse a low esteem for the demagogues who pretend to provide strategic direction to the movement. They behave autonomously, especially when concerns the extortion rackets they maintain. So it happens that, with or without a ceasefire declared, they burn heavy equipment when their demands for “revolutionary taxes” are unmet. They do so in the name of “active defense.”
When the CPP-NPA lifted their unilateral ceasefire a few weeks ago, it was likely to accommodate the needs of guerrilla shoguns who needed to get on with their business of extortion. When President Duterte reciprocated by lifting government’s own unilateral ceasefire, the communists begrudged him that option.
There is a clear conflict of interest between the old cadres involved in the peace talks and the young guns actually fighting the pointless “people’s war.”
Negotiations give the old, useless cadres a stage where they play out their delusions and pretend to be relevant players. But the same negotiations interfere with the activities of the armed shoguns who would rather be out burning buses and raiding rural businesses.
When President Duterte suspended the talks because of treacherous NPA attacks, the old cadres reacted as expected. They tried to build political pressure on the President to continue with the talks. Obviously on party directives, the leftist mass organizations began organizing protests demanding government continue with the talks.
An online poll conducted by this newspaper shows more than 85 percent of readers agree with the cancellation of the talks. That is a significant indicator. The vast majority of our public regards the communist movement as a mere nuisance. The talks only give them some semblance of importance they do not really deserve.
Until and unless the various parts that compose the local communist movement start building internal consensus disposed towards seeking a political settlement, the negotiations will be an exercise in futility. The communists will only use this to win belligerency status without yielding any concession. The peace talks will remain a functional adjunct to the “people’s war,” to be discarded when exigency dictates.
The entire approach to peace with the communist insurgents needs reinvention.