Judging from the way both sides are behaving, getting into the same table and signing a peace deal is proving to be extremely difficult. Both sides have been hurling accusations against each other, making people wonder whether peace is a real possibility or just an elusive dream, as the song goes.
This was triggered by the recent announcement of Joma Sison, the top honcho of the National Democratic Front, about the resumption of talks toward the end of June which was contradicted by the government saying that the scheduled resumption had been postponed to a later date. From the way this was done, it was obvious that there was no coordination at all between the two groups.
Feeling insulted, Sison went into overdrive, accusing the Armed Forces as the one responsible for torpedoing the talks because as Sison said, the military wants an all-out war. Predictably, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied this saying that if it is war that the AFP wants, it should have recommended the termination, not postponement, of the talks.
The reason given by the government was that the President needed time to study what has been accomplished so far. Whether this is true or not, the scheduled resumption of talks has been derailed.
There is also now a new stumbling block—the venue for the talks. President Duterte is insisting that the talks be held in the Philippines while the NDF views this as a trap and wants it in Norway, the old venue. Whether this new problem can be resolved for the talks to proceed, we will have to wait and see.
After 50 years of fighting, one would think that there is now war fatigue and everyone is now looking for ways to end the fighting. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. Sison, spouting his cold-war rhetoric, is as warlike as ever calling his cohorts, to resume their revolutionary struggle proving once and for all that he is not merely a consultant but the boss.
On the government side, there must be that segment in the Armed Forces also itching for combat to resume.
If both sides really want the talks to continue, both should start chilling and allow responsible officials from both sides to talk to each other to solve the confusing situation and not engage in a war of words in the media because this is only exacerbating the situation. A short cooling-off period is in order. It is quite important that both sides go to the negotiating table wanting genuine peace and not looking for an opportunity to regroup in order to be in a better position when fighting resumes. Both sides must realize that it is time for Filipinos to stop fighting each other and concentrate on strengthening the country’s capability to defend our sovereignty from external aggression.
There is a lot of incentives for both sides to forge a genuine and lasting peace. For the government led by President Duterte, if successful, he would have accomplished what no other president before him in giving the country the peace that have eluded all presidents before him. For Joma Sison, he can also claim that his lifelong struggles have not all been in vain. But for the peace negotiations to succeed, there must be trust, sincerity and the genuine desire to achieve peace which seems to be lacking from both sides at the moment.
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Our peace negotiations are very different from the way others do it like the Colombia-FARC deal which seems to be now in jeopardy due to the election of a new Colombian president and the so called Good Friday peace accord between the Irish Republican Army and the British government.
A lot of preliminary actions were put into place before both sides met at the bargaining table. There was a complete cessation of hostilities followed by a complete decommissioning of weapon by the IRA supervised by an independent body approved by both sides. In our case, there is no such thing. There was fighting, even when both were already negotiating.
The NDF is not giving up anything. Their combat capability remains intact ready to resume operation if the negotiations fail. Their leaders who are directing the movement have been given safe conduct passes and can actually travel to Norway if that is where the negotiation will take place and one other issue which seems to have not been noticed by people is that the government is apparently negotiating with a Dutch citizen in the person of Joma Sison and the former priest Luis Jalandoni.
Sure, the chief negotiator of the NDF is Fidel Agcaoili but it is Sison actually calling the shots. Is this not is ironic? Instead of protesting this to the Dutch government, our side seems to be willing to accept this. Will Joma Sison affix his signature to any agreement reached? If not, can he perhaps disavow the agreement if something goes wrong? On the side of President Duterte, part of the reason why he wants Congress to sign on in any agreement is perhaps to make it harder for any succeeding government to renege on any signed agreement with the NDF which makes good political sense.
Prudence after all is the better part of valor and Secretary Lorenzana for his part also realizes that the Armed Forces is facing many challenges and sees the need to terminate this festering insurgency for the AFP to focus its major attention to external defense which has long been neglected by the government in the past.