A FIFTH round of talks with communist rebels was supposed to start quietly today, Nov. 25 in Oslo, Norway, but the meetings were scrubbed following President Rodrigo Duterte’s abrupt decision to permanently terminate negotiations immediately.
On Thursday night, Malacanang announced that the President has already signed Proclamation No. 360 to formally terminate peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New Peoples’ Army.
Sources confirmed to Manila Standard that there were already “substantial” discussions between several reciprocal working committees in the past few weeks—working on drafts expected to be agreed upon leading to the fifth round of talks in Norway, including the long-awaited Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms—touted by the communist rebels as the “root” of their armed struggle in the country.
Other matters to be discussed in future rounds of talks were the release of all political prisoners and even a “coordinated unilateral ceasefire” between state forces and the NPA.
The Norwegian government, which has facilitated the peace negotiations since the early 2000s, has already prepared in detail the visas, return air tickets, and hotel accommodations for most of the NDF negotiators from Manila who would participate in the next round.
Described by some observers as the “farthest advance” in the often-tumultuous peace negotiations, the fifth round was kept under under wraps to prevent possible spoilers from hobbling the peace talks.
In his speech at Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan on Friday, Duterte hinted that among his reasons for terminating the talks was the communist rebels’ goal to form a “coalition government”—an idea he himself had floated earlier in his presidency.
“As it was shaping up during our talks, I already noticed the trend of the thought of the other side and when I summed it all, reading from all previous working papers, it would sound like a coalition government,” he said.
“That is why I said in the previous days, I cannot give you what I don’t own and certainly a coalition with the Republic of the Philippines is pure nonsense.”
Duterte, who claimed he was a leftist himself, had sought to end the nearly 50-year communist insurgency led by his former professor, Jose Maria Sison.
Reiterating his threats to tag the entire progressive movement as a “terrorist organization” — he even called on National Democratic Front onsultants who were granted temporary liberty to join peace negotiations, to “surrender.”
“I am ordering those I have released temporarily to surrender or face again punitive actions. You have to go back to where you belong.”
Sought for comment, Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza declined to “disclose internal matters” but only said that the government peace panel “work as a team with the President as Team Captain.”
He implied that the President is aware that negotiations were taking place in Oslo when he decided to issue Proclamation No. 360.
“We are all in the loop,” he said.
It remains unclear if the administration will continue to recognize all other previosly signed agreements with the left, including the Jasig or the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, which guarantees the immunity and safety of individuals involved in the peace talks.
In a statement late Thursday night announcing the termination of the peace talks — presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte had already directed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the government peace panel to cancel all future meetings with the communists.
“While we agreed to resume peace talks with the aforementioned group and exerted our best efforts to accelerate the signing and implementation of the final peace agreement, the NDF-CPP-NPA has engaged in acts of violence and hostilities,” Roque said.
“We find it unfortunate that their members have failed to show their sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations,” he added.
Saying that the President has walked “the extra mile for peace,” Roque insisted that Duterte wanted to leave a legacy of peace under his administration.
Sison in response, said that the communist movement has no choice but to intensify the protracted battle to topple the Duterte administration.
“The Filipino people and revolutionary forces waging the people’s democratic revolution have no choice but to intensify the people’s war through extensive and intensive guerrilla warfare in rural areas and partisan or commando operations in urban areas,” Sison said in a statement.
“The legal democratic forces and broad opposition have no choice but to develop the underground and encourage endangered activists to become fighters in the people’s army.”
Calling Duterte a “mass murderer, political swindler, a sycophant to foreign powers and a corrupt bureaucrat” — Sison accused the administration of moving towards a “fascist dictatorship.”
“Duterte is the No. 1 terrorist in the Philippines,” Sison said. “He is culpable for the abduction, torture and mass murder of an increasing large number of poor people suspected drug users and pushers, peasants and indigenous people in suspected guerrilla fronts and Moro people suspected of aiding the Dawlah Islamiyah from the time of the indiscriminate bombing of Marawi City to the present in several Bangsamoro areas.”
Luis Jalandoni, the former NDF chief negotiator accused Duterte of being a “saboteur” because of his decision to abruptly cancel the peace talks.
“Acting like a crazed tyrant, he declared the revolutionary national democratic movement cherished by the people all over the country as terrorist, in the same manner US imperialists have done.
“His wild tryrannical dreams will suffer the same fate of the Marcos dictatorship,” he warned.
The Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) vowed to crush the NPA rebels and hunt down communist leaders after Duterte terminated peace talks with them.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said there will be focused military operations against NPA rebels whom he described as criminals that continue to inflict harms against peace-loving Filipinos.
Padilla estimated there were 3,800 active NPA rebels throughout the country.
“It is the mandate of the Armed Forces to go after criminals and illegally armed elements. We are performing our mandate so whatever you terms is, it is performance of our mandate,” Padilla said.
“We have already provided guidance to our units to be vigilant, stay alert pertaining to the movements of the NPA,” Padilla said.
Padilla also said included in its anti-insurgency measures was the hunt for communist leaders, who were conditionally freed by Duterte as part of the confidence-building measures during the peace negotiations. He said temporary freedom of the communist consultants through the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Gaurantees (JASIG) became void after the cancellation of the peace talks.
“It is automatic that once formal talks hgave been ended the effectivity of the orders that were given or for their temporary release will automatically be revoked,” said Padilla.
Among the high-profile NDF consultants freed were CPP Chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma Tiamzon, the CPP’s Secretary General and toop NPA commanders Tirso Alcantara and Allan Jazmines.
“They were just temporarily released for the purpose of the peace talks, now that there are no peace talks, there is no reason for them to be at large,” said Padilla.
The intensified anti-insurgency operations, Padilla said, will focus on Eastern Mindanao, comprising the provinces of Surigao, Bukidnon, Compostella Valley, Davao, Caraga and Agusan, where martial law still exist.
The opposition Liberal Party expressed concern over the cancellation of peace talks.
Party president Senator Francis Pangilian said both sides have already endured enough, and cancelling the peace talks would only mean further suffering for all, especially civilians who are caught between the seemingly endless armed struggle.
“We need to have a continuous dialogue about dealing with the civil unrest. We need to continue talking about land reform, improving and ensuring workers’ rights, protecting indigenous peoples, and alleviating the injustices long felt by our country’s working class.,” he said.
A lawmaker from a rebel-infested area on Friday proposed the holding of localized peace talks with communist rebels.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III made the prpposal in light of Duterte’s decision to cancel the peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF-NPA.
Albano said with regional peace talks, “we will know who we are talking to and put responsibility and accountability to regional commanders and heads.”
But Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate , who belongs to the left-leaning Makabayan Bloc, contradicted Albano.
“The best government policy to deal with the root causes of the armed conflict is through the peace talks at the national level, not through localized ones, and, in implementing genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization,” Zarate said.
He added that the President’s decision would ot solve the root causes of the country’s five-decade armed rebellion. –