"For any peace talks to succeed, the proper atmosphere should be established."
With the declaration of a bilateral ceasefire between the national government and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) for the duration of the Christmas and New Year holidays, we see yet another glimmer of hope that the scuttled peace talks can resume and lead to a political settlement of the armed conflict.
But wait. Hardly had the ink dried on the agreement by the two sides when the New People's Army (NPA) launched attacks on government forces on two occasions, triggering fears that this round of peace overtures would end up with a resounding thud.
We have long argued that for any peace talks to succeed, the proper atmosphere should be established.
The "proper atmosphere" entails the declaration of a bilateral ceasefire for the entire duration of the talks, because how can the two sides demonstrate sincerity and good faith in talking peace while soldiers and police, on the one hand, and NPA guerillas, on the other, constantly engage in hostilities where they try to terminate the enemy with extreme prejudice?
The peace talks should probably be held behind closed doors with both sides bound by a mutually agreed gag order to preclude a propaganda war between the two sides where each side tries to score political points at the expense of the other.
Then there should be other confidence-building measures.
For instance, the government can offer to release old and sickly political prisoners who have been charged with common crimes such as murder and illegal possession of firearms and explosives. The government denies it is holding hundreds of "political prisoners" in jails throughout the country with the line that the rebels they have sent behind bars are not prisoners of conscience but common criminals already charged with crimes under the Revised Penal Code. Last we looked, however, the Supreme Court had already rendered a decision a long time ago that there is no such crime as rebellion complexed with murder, arson, and other crimes.
On the part of the NDF, they should come up with something that would clearly demonstrate their genuine willingness to talk peace. Perhaps a declaration that they are suspending the collection of "revolutionary taxation" from mining firms and business enterprises in areas where they operate, at least for the duration of the peace talks? After all, they claim to enjoy the support of the masses in their bid to wage armed struggle to overthrow the government. Didn't Mao advise his guerrillas to be self-reliant and engage in production even as they engaged in warfare?
The trouble with the government is that it wants total surrender from the communist movement without putting in place the economic, social and political reforms that would put an end to mass poverty and the wide gap between the rich and the poor in this benighted country.
The latest government strategy is to pursue local peace talks under what it refers to as the "whole-of-nation" approach. This strategy is nothing new as it is a variation of what is really a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners policy. I don't see any real progress in the current counterinsurgency policy that would indicate real gains in bringing the armed rebellion to heel.
On the other hand, the trouble with the NDF is that it insists on their demand for a coalition government or power sharing when its army remains weak in relation to the AFP and its political infrastructure is just as weak.
How many NPAs are there now? The military says no more than 3,000 ragtag guerrillas. Ranged against them is the AFP which has 150,000 personnel, with fighter aircraft, battle tanks and warships. Yet, the insurgency is still raging in the countryside after five long decades.
In other words, we seem to have an unwinnable war for both sides.
The CPP-NPA-NDF has been waging armed struggle for 50 years now without a reaching its goal of a strategic stalemate or parity with the government in terms of numbers and fighting capability. Years back—in the 80s, I think—the CPP-NPA-NDF boasted of having reached what it called the "advanced substage" of the strategic defensive. Since then, I have yet to read a CPP statement that it has already managed to reach the stage of strategic stalemate that should be the next logical step in its armed struggle. Rebel propaganda, of course, has insisted, since 1968 and up to 2019, that conditions are ripe for armed revolution.
Successive rounds of peace talks have been initiated by the government and the NDF since 1986, but with each screeching to a grinding halt as neither wanted to stop attacks against each other even as their negotiators professed to want peace more than anything else.
The question that both the government and the rebel movement should answer at this point is whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution. If both of them can answer that both are part of the problem and part of the solution at the same time, then perhaps they may yet reach a win-win solution that would end the violence and the bloodshed once and for all.