AS THE YEAR draws to an end, the militarists, hawks, and peace spoilers are celebrating and congratulating themselves for a string of major victories and accomplishments this past year.
It was in mid-June when they succeeded in aborting the resumption of the 5th round of formal talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)
In the nick of time, they blocked the signing of the Interim Peace Agreement (IPA), a breakthrough and unprecedented deal that would have included a presidential proclamation or general amnesty for political prisoners, an agreement on coordinated unilateral ceasefire, and agreements on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED), the two most crucial sections of the CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms).
The agreement would have led to the release of the 500+ illegally arrested and unjustly detained political prisoners, as well as an Interim Joint Ceasefire which the GRP had long demanded as an “enabling environment”. Likewise, the IPA would have started the formal talks on political and constitutional reforms.
The two negotiating panels had managed to craft and initial tentative drafts of the IPA and its three components in discreet backchannel talks held from March to June 2018. This by itself was remarkable considering that Pres. Duterte had issued months earlier Proclamation 360 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the NDFP, and Proclamation 374 declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) terrorist organizations in accordance with the Human Security Act.
After postponing and eventually cancelling formal talks, the GRP imposed preconditions for its resumption: the talks should be held in the Philippines with no foreign third party, the NPA should stop its attacks and collection of revolutionary tax, and should be confined to “areas of stay” even without a ceasefire agreement, and there should be no demand for a coalition government. All those preconditions are in violation of the 1992 The Hague Joint Declaration, and were aimed at scuttling the peace negotiations itself.
Pretending to pursue the talks on another track, the GRP used as pretext for postponement the need to “review the drafts and documents”, and “engage the bigger table of stakeholders,” e.g. local communities, LGU’s and CSO’s (civil society organizations). Local peace talks will be prioritized over national talks.
The same pretext was resorted to by the Arroyo government in 2008 and by the Aquino III government in 2014. In 2008, the GRP announced it was shifting to a “new framework” — disarmament, demobilization-reintegration (DDR). In 2014, GRP said it “was no longer willing to return to the regular track,” referring to talks in accordance with The Hague Declaration. In both instances, the GRP suspended and never returned to negotiations on CASER.
The real intent was to terminate the negotiations de facto and revert to the pre-1992 counterinsurgency framework. Military pressure and psywar will be employed to divide and weaken the “rebel” forces and entice them to lay down their arms and surrender.
At this point the peace spoilers and wreckers appear to have dealt the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations a decisive, lethal blow.
With initiative and momentum on their side, they launched in July a renewed and more vicious campaign of demonization and crackdown on the legal democratic movement. A long-discarded and discredited murder case against progressive leaders Satur Ocampo, Liza Masa, Rafael Mariano, and Teddy Casino was revived. All former Party List Representatives, they allegedly ordered the NPA in 2001 to assassinate their political rivals. The case was quickly dismissed after the judge who ordered their arrest inhibited herself amid universal disbelief and outrage. But it served as a stark omen and a grim warning of things to come.
A wider but less publicized net of redtagging had been cost earlier in February. The DOJ filed a petition in court to proscribe the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations listing 650 plus names of alleged officers and members of the CPP and NPA. Topping the list were the NDFP chief political consultant Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, negotiating panel senior adviser Luis Jalandoni, four members of the negotiating panel, and several consultants directly participating in the negotiations. Thrown in were scores of leaders of people’s organizations and well known progressives including the UN special rapporteur for indigenous peoples and other officers of international agencies. The list was bloated by names of long-dead persons and hundreds of aliases.
The actual crackdown on the legal democratic movement came in September. The red-tagging was escalated to a terrorist-tagging hysteria. The AFP “exposed” an alleged Red October plot to oust Duterte. Prominent peace advocates Satur Ocampo and Rey Casambre were singled out as orchestrating the ouster plot supposedly hatched by the CPP. The AFP fabrication was so ludicrous and baseless that Department of National Defense (DND) Sec Lorenzana’s and Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Albayalde’s initial reactions were that they had no intelligence verification of the alleged plot.
The AFP’s Red October tall tale supposedly involved a broad range of personages (including senators, congressmen and a former Chief Justice), organizations from nearly the entire political spectrum and broad alliances. The common denominator was opposition to the Duterte government’s policies, programs and conduct, especially the rising tyranny and continuing martial law, rampant extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrest and detention perpetrated with impunity in relation to the anti-drug war and COIN campaigns, etc. But the DND/ AFP and the DILG/PNP focused their red-tagging and terrorist-tagging on the national democratic organizations of workers, peasants, youth, women, indigenous peoples, church people and various professionals, Trade unions, schools and universities. Even churches and hospitals were marked as recruiting ground for the “communist terrorists”.
In the final quarter of the year, the AFP/ PNP went on a rampage arresting NDFP peace consultants and their companions at the time of arrest in flagrant violation of the GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). All arrests were conducted using spurious search and arrest warrants and illegally planting firearms and explosives to serve as evidence of criminal non-bailable offenses.
In November, even NDFP negotiating panel senior adviser Luis Jalandoni and Panel Chairperson Fidel Agcaoili were threatened by DILG Sec Ano with arrest should they arrive in the Philippines for a scheduled meeting with the new Norweigan Ambassador and to attend to NDFP JMC (Joint Monitoring Committee) matters. This despite the fact that there is no standing case against Agcaoili in the Philippine courts.
All these underscore the GRP’s blatant intent to go to all lengths to totally wreck the peace negotiations.
Also in November, the Sagay massacre and Talaingod incident showcased how government agencies such as the DSWD and DOJ are being harnessed to support the counterinsurgency operations including the crackdown and attacks on legal and unarmed personalities, organizations and legitimate protest actions and other activities. Top AFP generals have also routinely been appointed to head civilian agencies upon retirement from military service.
All these are in line with the National Internal Security Plan (NISP) 2018 aiming purportedly to “end the communist insurgency” along the “whole of nation approach” by mid-2019. Part of the plan is to junk the peace negotiations. By their measure, the peace wreckers are on track and right on schedule.
Who are they kidding?
Every top AFP and PNP general, especially the authors of NISP 2018, knows that there is nothing really new in their strategy. They were commissioned as fresh lieutenants when the Marcos dictatorship was at its dying throes. And rose up the ranks implementing one failed counterinsurgency campaign after another.
What they seem not to realize nor comprehend is that every single “victory” they celebrate is bound to backfire on their objectives. Their lies, either out of sheer arrogance or desperation, are so blatant they only ultimately serve to surface and highlight, by contrast, the truth. Every human rights violation raises calls for justice. Each drop of blood spilt by the victims makes fertile the ground for resistance against tyranny and oppression.
Contrary to AFP claims ad nauseam, the NPAs are not “surrendering in droves”. Forced to admit that their reported figure far exceed their own data on NPA strength, the AFP lamely clarified the “surrenderees” were not all NPA fighters but supporters or members of their mass base. Even that claim has been widely exposed as farce, and the AFP perpetrators are the first to know this.
The much-ballyhooed “local peace talks” or talks with local NPA commands on the ground never materialized. Not a single local command heeded the GRP call for talks to “address the roots of the armed conflict on the ground”. On the contrary, several NPA commands issued statements rejecting the GRP call.
As state forces heighten repressive measures with impunity, vested interests are emboldened to ram through more anti-national and anti-people programs. The continuing TRAIN law, Charter Change, martial law extension and the extrajudicial killings are only the most recent examples. All largely unpopular, they undo and reverse hard-fought democratic and patriotic gains achieved through people’s struggles. They push the country’s politics and economy deeper into crises that no amount of suppression can contain nor deception can conceal.
What’s in store for the peace talks in 2019?
Despite the GRP’s abandonment and scuttling of peace negotiations, the crying need for upholding, protecting and defending human rights and international humanitarian law, basic social, economic, political and constitutional reforms to attain a just and lasting peace shall continue to remain high on the national agenda and discourse.
Peace advocates, including the entire legal democratic movement in calling for the resumption of peace talks, honoring all agreements and addressing the roots of the armed conflict. They are undaunted and unfazed by all the red-tagging, terrorist tagging and repressive attacks. They continue to hold the high moral ground and gain more adherents.
The GRP is bound to reconsider as it is incessantly confronted and besieged in all possible arenas of struggle, both armed and unarmed. The negotiating table will increasingly become a palatable and practical option.
The NDFP has repeatedly and consistently declared it remains open to the resumption of talks provided these are in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration and all other prior agreements and shall seriously negotiate basic reforms.
Peace advocates and all peace-loving people share this confidence, optimism and aspiration for a truly free, democratic, and just Philippine society.
Rey Casambre is the executive director of the Philippine Peace Center and a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel for the peace negotiations. He was arrested along with his wife Cora by operatives of the Crime Investigation and Detection Group of the National Capital Region on several trumped-up charges. He is currently detained in Camp Crame.