by Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chief Political Consultant
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
During his electoral campaign and soon after assuming the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) presidency, Rodrigo R. Duterte described himself as a socialist wishing seriously to become the first Left president of the Philippines and to negotiate a just and lasting peace with the NDFP and the revolutionary forces of the Bangsamoro. One week after his election he promised NDFP through its emissary Fidel Agcaoili on May 16, 2016 that he was going to amnesty and release all the about 400 political prisoners listed by the NDFP. On his own initiative, he also offered to appoint nominees of the NDFP as secretaries to the departments of labor and employment, agrarian reform, social welfare and community development and environment and natural resources. Everything looked rosy for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations on the substantive agenda. We in the NDFP had high expectations that we could make the comprehensive agreements to lay the basis of a just and lasting peace.
The Ensuing Disappointment with GRP under the Duterte Regime
But soon enough, Duterte exposed himself as a volatile and erratic person, if not a grandstanding demagogue, when in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, 2016, he unilaterally declared in general terms a ceasefire with the NDFP without any prior information in sufficient detail to the NDFP and demanded that the NDFP reciprocate blindly and issue its own ceasefire declaration. It turned out his ceasefire declaration was nothing more than the Suspension of Military Operations Order (SOMO) and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO), both of which allowed the reactionary military and police forces and their paramilitary auxiliaries to attack the revolutionary forces and people under the pretext of law enforcement. At the same time as commander-in-chief of the reactionary armed forces, he continued Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan until the issuance of his own Oplan Kapayapaan.
He angrily withdrew his ceasefire order three hours before the NDFP could issue the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ceasefire order to the New People’s Army (NPA). Cooler heads prevailed after a few days. Subsequently, GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels were to issue their respective unilateral but reciprocal ceasefire declarations in order to promote the formal rounds of talks. Thus, an unprecedented ceasefire of more than five months ran from August 2016 to February 4, 2017 when Duterte terminated the peace negotiations without even consulting his own negotiating panel on February 20 as previously scheduled and despite the success of the third round of formal talks in Rome on January 19-25, 2017. Under pressure from the Defense Secretary Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, the National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon and the AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, Duterte demanded a bilateral ceasefire from the NDFP and immediately declared an all-out war policy against the armed revolutionary forces, without ever withdrawing such policy even when the fourth round of formal talks was held in Noordwijk, the Netherlands on April 3-6, 2017.
The insincerity or chicanery of Duterte was first exposed during the first and second rounds of formal talks in Oslo when he backtracked on his promise to amnesty and release all political prisoners in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). He released only 19 political prisoners on bail and subsequently ordered their re-arrest whenever he terminated the peace negotiations or threatened to do so. He has remained adamant that he would not amnesty and release all the political prisoners, unless he first secures the surrender and pacification of the people’s armed revolution under the guise of a protracted and indefinite bilateral ceasefire. He has shown no interest in the acceleration of the peace negotiations to arrive at the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) before the Comprehensive Agreement on the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF).
Duterte is surrounded by neoliberal economic advisers and is obsessed with infrastructure building and importing manufactures by auctioning off the natural resources of the country, favoring foreign monopoly capitalism and raising taxes and foreign loans to cover budgetary and trade deficits. He is also surrounded by pro-US military advisers who embolden him to carry out a policy of killing people and bombing communities to suppress the armed revolution and preserve the rotten semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. The regime has made impossible any substantial allocation of resources for national industrialization and genuine land reform under CASER. The Duterte plan of charter change for federalism ignores the forging of the CAPCR, which is necessary to prevent a pseudo-federal system of regional and provincial warlords under the highly centralized unitary presidential tyranny of Duterte.
Current Circumstances of Impasse Caused by Duterte Regime
Duterte has “terminated” the peace negotiations thrice. The first one was on February 4, 2017 in conjunction with the issuance of his all-out war policy against the revolutionary forces and the people. It was followed up by a formal termination of the peace negotiations in a letter to the NDFP Negotiating Panel from OPAPP Secretary Dureza. Through the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, the NDFP patiently reminded and prevailed upon the OPAPP secretary that it would be better to talk and that teams of the GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels could meet for back channel talks. Thus, the teams met in Utrecht and agreed on March 11, 2017 that the GRP and NDFP engage in discussions for reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declarations be held before the fourth round of formal talks. But the GRP backed out of such a ceasefire agreement and insisted on a prolonged and indefinite bilateral ceasefire agreement ahead of negotiations on the reforms required by The Hague Joint Declaration. Even then, the fourth round of formal talks proceeded and the two sides agreed among others to work out an interim joint ceasefire agreement in conjunction with the signing and approval of CASER and the release of all political prisoners.
The second instance Duterte declared to the press the termination of peace negotiations was without a formal notice of termination. The “termination” was made in connection with the Duterte regime´s cancellation of the 5th round of formal talks and its complaint that the CPP had ordered the NPA to intensify tactical offensives against the May 23 proclamation of martial law Mindanao-wide, which targeted not only the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi but also the revolutionary forces and people outside Bangsamoro areas. The NDFP pointed out that it was in fact the aggrieved party because the Duterte regime never withdrew its all-out war policy under Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino regime and then Oplan Kapayapaan of the Duterte regime. And the all-out war policy was aggravated by the Mindanao-wide martial rule and the repeated threats to extend this nationwide. In the absence of any formal notice of termination, the NDFP consultants on bail who were stranded in The Netherlands were able to return home upon the facilitation of the RNG and on the assumption that the peace negotiations were still ongoing.
The third instance Duterte declared again to the press the termination of the peace negotiations was on July 19, 2017 immediately after the Arakan incident in which two vans of the Presidential Security Group ran into an NPA checkpoint. He also stopped the GRP negotiating panel from meeting with its NDFP counterpart for back channel talks on July 21-23 to prepare the fifth round of formal talks. He made it appear later that the NPA had tried to ambush him. In fact, he was responsible for failing to avail of a longstanding mechanism by which he could have arranged his safe passage with officials of the people’s revolutionary government in their territory. Further investigation showed that the most important passenger in one of the vans was not Duterte but a girlfriend of his.
Duterte and his partisans are making it appear that the NDFP is simply against an interim bilateral or joint ceasefire. In fact, the NDFP considers such a ceasefire possible after the GRP complies with CARHRIHL by an amnesty and release of all the political prisoners; and after the CASER is duly signed and approved by the respective principals of the GRP and the NDFP. In this regard, the NDFP has exercised flexibility without violating The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees. The NDFP has always made clear that short of any agreement to form a single national unity government under the CAPCR the people’s democratic government exercises all its governmental functions among the people in its territory. In the current civil war in the Philippines, the revolutionary government and the reactionary government confront and fight each other as co-belligerents.
Continuing Need for and Prospects of Peace Negotiations
There is continuing need for peace negotiations. The conditions of chronic crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal system keep on worsening. There are therefore prospects of peace negotiations to arrive at agreements for the benefit of the Filipino people. The NDFP is ever willing to lay the basis for a government of national unity, peace and development. It has even offered to co-found the Federal Republic of the Philippines, provided that there will be national and democratic guarantees against a despotic unitary president on top of pseudo-federal states of regional and provincial warlords and dynasties. The reactionary ruling system of big compradors and landlords under US hegemony continues to exist but is confronted by an ever worsening social and political crises and the rise of the revolutionary forces, including the party of the proletariat, the people’s army, the mass organizations, the organs of political power and the alliances.
In any circumstance, whether any reactionary administration of the GRP is willing to engage in peace negotiations with the NDFP or refuses to do so, the NDFP and the revolutionary forces and people that it represents have no choice but to continue further strengthening themselves. Those who oppose the armed revolution of the people assume the perpetuity of the reactionary state and ignore the growing strength and scope of the people’s democratic government of workers and peasants, which is fighting the reactionary government of big compradors and landlords.
Right now, the balance of forces is such that the possible outcome of the negotiations for a just and lasting peace can only consist of social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that are mutually satisfactory to the GRP and NDFP and are agreed upon by them. The agreements can raise the level of national independence, democracy, and economic development through national industrialization and genuine land reform, social justice, expansion of social services, a patriotic, scientific and mass culture and education, national self defense and independent foreign policy. They satisfy the demands of the people now and open the way to a still higher level of development.
Also right now, Duterte regime has brought discredit to himself and his regime by terminating the peace negotiations, failing to set the policies for solving the basic problems of the people, forgetting to fulfill contradictory promises to various classes and sectors, continuing the US-dictated neoliberal economic and security policies of his predecessors and engaging in extreme brutality in the counterrevolutionary campaigns against the revolutionary forces of the Filipino people and Bangsamoro with the use of aerial bombings, artillery and mortar on communities and in the so-called war on drugs targeting the poor drug addicts and pushers and killing more than 12,000 extrajudically with impunity cum foul-mouthed guarantees by Duterte himself that no one among the murderers in police authority would ever be punished. Thus, there is now a rapid growth of a broad united front to isolate, fight and oust the Duterte regime before it can wreak further havoc as the reign of greed and terror.
Even if the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations cannot succeed at this time, while the Duterte regime is still standing, the revolutionary forces and the people will keep increasing their strength by all means, especially people’s war. There is still the possibility that a better negotiating counterpart less reactionary than the current one can arise or the crisis of the ruling system becomes so aggravated that it produces a government that is more ready to come to agreement with the NDFP and the people’s democratic government. But of course, the best circumstances for the peace negotiations with an adversary are when the revolutionary forces and the people are already in the stage of the strategic offensive, they are about to win power in the urban areas and on a nationwide scale, and the reactionary government is already collapsing and disintegrating. ###