Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. has expressed caution on having negotiations with Filipino communists overseas, preferring instead to have peace talks with the locals under the government’s “Whole-of-Nation-Approach.”
According to Galvez, local peace engagements being carried out nationwide under the so-called Approach “have proven to be highly effective in achieving enduring peace, social justice, and development.”
In a statement from the Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser, Galvez said the government “is demonstrating its strong resolve and decisiveness to put an end to the local communist armed conflict by directly addressing the roots of the armed rebellion and involving all national and local government agencies together with key stakeholders—including the rebels themselves.”
The local peace engagements became operational by virtue of Executive Order 70, with the Approach emphasizing the need for greater synergy in the delivery of much-needed government services to remote, underdeveloped, conflict-affected areas across the nation to improve the general welfare and well-being of the people.
In light of Duterte’s recent ceasefire declaration with the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army/ National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), there are those who believe the truce will sustain the gains achieved through the LPEs.
“We support President Duterte’s wish to ensure a peaceful holiday season for Filipinos and particularly all the combatants. May this act of goodwill be considered by the other side as a step towards finally putting an end to the armed violence,” Galvez said in a statement.
But Galvez urged everyone to exercise caution in negotiating peace with the rebels.
He recalled incidents in the past when ceasefires where blatantly violated and exploited by the left in order to push forward their agenda.
“As peace talks were being held at the national level, attacks were being carried out by the rebels. In short, there have already been precedents. We have to be prepared and make sure that such incidents are prevented at all costs,” Galvez said.
The former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff has joined officials who feel that the resumption of peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF may put the latter at a disadvantage.
Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio cautioned the Duterte administration to always keep its guard up and learn from the lessons of the past, especially how the rebels have openly cast aside several ceasefire agreements as they launched attacks on government forces.
“Why the past peace negotiations sorely failed could only be blamed on the countless criminal acts and treachery of NDFP-CPP-NPA—displayed even during times when ceasefires were supposed to be in place,” Carpio said in a statement.
“As spoilers of peace, we believe that the Christmas truce will be used by the terrorist groups as an opportunity to regain communities previously cleared of their presence, consolidate their forces, and derail the progress of existing government rural development projects,” she noted.
Galvez, who is the Cabinet officer for Regional Development and Security in Region 3, has seen up close how LPEs have been instrumental in dealing with the communist insurgents, particularly those operating in the countryside.
He explained the CORDS mechanism was established to ensure the efficient implementation of the Whole-of-Nation Approach, particularly those interventions which require greater cooperation between national government agencies and local government units.
“The LPE approach directly addresses the needs of people and communities and prevents them from being exploited by the insurgents. The government provides basic services, livelihood, and security, among others, as a means of capacitating them,” Galvez said.
In Mindanao, the conduct of LPEs has resulted in the mass surrender of members of the CPP-NPA Southern, Northeastern, and Western Mindanao Regional Party Committees operating in Regions IX, X, XI and CARAGA.
Through the efforts of local chief executives, the Regional Task Force–Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) IX, and the CPP-NPA’s Western Committee, the parties forged an agreement in which they committed to jointly carry out socio-economic programs and projects in their communities.
Moreover, LPEs have enabled the parties to utilize non-traditional measures in convincing members of the rebel group to give up armed struggle and return to mainstream society as peaceful and productive civilians.
LPEs are anchored on the concept of Normalization which include the transformation of armed fighters to peaceful civilians; the delivery of socio-economic programs to the affected communities; the provision of possible amnesty programs; and the healing process among the former rebels and victims of armed conflict.
However, the main strength of these LPEs lie in their ability to bring all the government agencies and key stakeholders together—which is the heart and soul of E0 70—and providing them an opportunity to contribute in peacebuilding by acting as agents of peace, understanding and solidarity in their communities.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate’s National Defense and Security Committee, agrees that LPEs have a better chance of resolving the communist insurgency than talks being held at the national level.
“The latest attack on our soldiers by NPA rebels despite the ceasefire simply means that they don’t listen to Joma Sison anymore. Either that, or he cannot and should not be trusted. Localizing the peace talks is still the better way, I think,” Lacson recently posted on his Twitter account.
Season of peace
In Masbate, 306 members of the CPP-NPA have returned to the folds of the law during the party’s 51st founding anniversary on Dec. 26, 2019.
Of the 306 returnees, 47 were regular NPA cadres, 150 were Milisyang Bayan members, 51 were Sangay ng Partido sa Lokalidad officers and members, and 58 were active supporters of the communist group.
The Masbate group also surrendered 49 different firearms which included six M16 rifles, one carbine, two KG9 sub-machine guns, one Ingram and other pistols, and three improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
On the same day, three NPA members also surrendered in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, along with two AK-47s and an M-16 rifle.
With these current developments in the peace and security front, Galvez is optimistic that the long-running communist rebellion is coming to an imminent end.
“We welcome the resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF as long as it will end the armed conflict. Our collective goal is bring enduring and long-lasting peace to our country,” he said.
“It should lead to the cessation of CPP-NPA ambuscades and other acts of violence, extortion activities, liquidation, and finally, in the decommissioning and normalization of NPA combatants,” Galvez added.
One-on-one-talk between PRRD and Sison pushed
Malacañang has urged CPP founder Jose Maria Sison to have a “one-on-one” meeting with President Duterte in order to “forge a lasting peace agreement” between the government and the rebel group, according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Panelo, however, said that “his (Sison) refusal to have a personal dialogue with his former student in the Philippines betrays his insincerity.”
“His decade-long comfortable and luxurious self-exile in Europe has placed blinders in his eyes hence he could not see the transformation of society initiated and propelled by the strong-willed leadership of the former Mayor of Davao City,” he added.
“Foreign financial organizations foresee the Philippines as the fastest growing economy in the Asia-Pacific in 2020. Employment in the country has been on a 14-year high. High inflation is now a thing of the past. Almost six million Filipinos have been lifted out of poverty,” Panelo said.
Government economic managers had projected during the early part of this year that the Philippine economy would expand within the range of 6 to 6.5 percent in 2019.
“Sison does not have the courage to risk losing the comforts he is enjoying abroad, as many NPAs are dying from extreme fatigue, sickness and in combat in the battlefield,” Galvez said.
“Mr. Sison is not an authentic warrior and leader, but rather a deceptive and scheming master propagandist. He tells more lies and prefers to shade the truth,” he added.
Meanwhile, Galvez pointed out that under the Duterte administration, more than 100,000 hectares of land had been distributed to Filipinos, which reflects the government’s desire to uplift the well-being of the people.
According to Galvez, the most recent land distribution was done in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in which more than 1,800 hectares were distributed by the Department of Agrarian Reform to former Moro Islamic Liberation combatants.
He said the Duterte Administration was aggressively carrying out development interventions across the country, particularly in conflict-affected areas. The government’s recent “excellent” approval rating is a testament of its impressive performance in the socioeconomic front.
As a result, Galvez said, more than eleven thousand members of the CPP-NPA as well as members of other terror groups have laid down their arms and have returned to mainstream society as peaceful and productive civilians.
He said that it is a widely acknowledged fact that areas where the CPP-NPA continue to operate have remained poor and underdeveloped.
“This is their last chance. When I say ‘last chance’, my time is running out,” President Duterte has said.
At the same time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday said some members of the Philippine Army might face sanctions over the release of manipulated photographs of the supposed recent surrender of members of the New People’s Army in Masbate.
“I have directed the CG (Commanding General) Army to make an inquiry. Sanctions will be meted to those who perpetrated it. This is very serious because it undermines the efforts of the whole Organization, the AFP. The military is doing well enjoying an unprecedented high trust rating from the people. And now this? This action is unacceptable,” Lorenzana told GMA News Online.
In a statement, Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala has acknowledged the admission by the 9th Infantry Division that they failed to double check the pictures attached to the press release in question in their “ardent desire to release timely information.”
Zagala, likewise, said they will conduct an investigation and hold into account those accountable for the manipulated photographs.
At the House of Representatives, militant congressmen on Saturday sought a congressional probe into the alleged distorted photo images released by the Armed Forces capturing “fake surrenderers and bounty collection racket of state forces.”
“We received reports from farmers and ordinary folks all over the country that they have been called into a supposed mass meetings by the military but when they get there they are presented as NPA surrenderees and made to sign blank documents,” party-list Reps. Carlos Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna said in a joint statement.
“Out of fear of military abuse they were forced to sign said blank document,” said Zarate.
He said the photoshopped pictures of supposed 306 surrenderers in Masbate seemed to be the template the AFP and the National Police could have been used for specific purposes, such as “ to have a sterling report or meeting the quota for their unit; promotion for the officers, as well as soldiers and police involved in the deception; and money from the Enhanced–Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) budget or what the local government unit will add.
“The culprits are hitting three birds with one deception and they are making money out of it as well because they are supposedly the ones getting the money allocated for the purported surrenderers with at least P15,000 from E-CLIP and the same amount from the LGU or government departments or at least P30,000 for each surrenderer. In the supposed Masbate event alone that would mean P9.180 million that can go to the military unit involved,” he added.
“What is worse though is that they are apparently also recycling these pictures and fake surrenderers and present them as new surrenderers. Media reports said the Masbate picture has been used since 2017 up till yesterday (Friday, Dec. 27, 2019),” Zarate said.
Cullamat, for her part, said the alleged anomaly “urgently needs to be investigated by Congress because the peoples’ coffers are being drained by these corrupt and unscrupulous officers.”