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Talking to the wrong people

IT seems inconceivable that anyone would engage another party in serious negotiations for six years before realizing that they were talking to the wrong people. Yet astonishingly, this is exactly what the government’s chief negotiator with the communist rebels said he realized toward the tail end of the Aquino administration’s six years in office.

“We are talking to the wrong people in the NDF,” said the government’s chief peace negotiator, Alex Padilla, referring to the National Democratic Front, represented by the self-exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Ma. Sison, and his seemingly tenuous connection with the party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army.

“The NDF has no control over NPA. That is very clear to us now…The one that gives orders to the NPA is the CPP. Now if the CPP gives orders to the NPA, then we should be talking to the CPP, not the NDF,” Padilla said.

He added: “It’s been 30 years that we have been talking to the NDF. I maybe am the fifth panel head and we have been talking to one and the same panel that is principally in Utrecht. So my question is, is the NDF the right group to talk peace with?”

Padilla also urged the next administration to initiate direct talks with the rebels on the ground, rather than its advisers in the Netherlands.

Padilla’s belated epiphany suggests that as in so many other matters, the Aquino administration has proved incompetent in seeking peace with the communists.

How long, we wonder, did it take our top peace negotiator to realize that Sison, ensconced in his Utrecht cocoon, had no say in the operations of the NPA?

Why, if he had realized this early on, did he continue talking to the NDF?

But Padilla should not be singled out for talking to the wrong people. The government’s top peace negotiators with the Muslim rebels have also been guilty of talking to the wrong people by focusing exclusively on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to the exclusion of other groups who also have a stake in a peaceful settlement of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.

Where Padilla’s team achieved nothing in the last six years, the team of Miriam Coronel Ferrer and Secretary Teresita Deles went the other way, going overboard and bending the Constitution to give the MILF rebels almost everything they demanded to the detriment of the national interest.

Perhaps it is the rebels, after all, who are talking to the wrong people. They should be talking to competent peace negotiators who can carefully analyze the situation on the ground before they start opening their mouths.

Topics: Talking to the wrong people

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