"There's bleak prospects for peace on the horizon."
The bad news is that there will be no respite from the fighting between government troopers and Maoist guerrillas in the countryside this Christmas season.
Well, if they're eager to lunge at each other's throats and send the other side to the peace of the graveyard and the neat order of tombstones even amid the season of peace and goodwill, then who can stop them?
Not the Church, not even ardent peace advocates here and abroad, perhaps not even the families of the combatants in this long-drawn war that has killed so many on both sides in the course of 50-odd years.
And so expect the body count this Christmas season to further increase and add to the total score since 1968. Is it going to top the conservative estimate of 30,000 lives lost so far, countless others maimed for life? We won't know until the newspapers detail the latest skirmishes this week and the next.
Meantime, there's bleak prospects for peace on the horizon, with the likelihood that the fighting could become even more intense in the year ahead with the two sides unable to find common ground in returning to the negotiation table.
The Duterte administration has created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ECLAC) as part of what it calls the whole-of-nation approach to finally put an end to the rebellion. But will the two-pronged strategy of conducting military offensives while trying to hold local peace talks and encouraging rebels to return to the fold of the law in return for cash and livelihood assistance work? We will have to wait-and-see if it really does.
I understand that the National Security Adviser has drawn up a strategy called "Winning Hearts and Minds,"which quite possibly seeks to combine military action with socio-economic initiatives on the ground and win over rural folk to the government side. It's not a new concept, by any means, as it's been suggested as far back as the Huk rebellion in the 1950s. But we think a serious effort to address the roots of rebellion, which are poverty and social injustice brought about by thievery and corruption in government is precisely what's needed to drain the pond that breeds armed rebellion.
Mr. Duterte has closed the door to any resumption of formal peace talks with the rebels. This is unfortunate as this would only intensify division in Philippine society and prevent the nation from attaining lasting political stability and sustained economic growth.
Code of Conduct in the South China Sea
There's a bit of good news, however, in so far as the South China Sea
In a media interview last December 10, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian revealed that China wants to complete the consultation on the "Code of Conduct for the South China Sea" (COC) by next year.
The pandemic may have temporarily delayed the consultation process, but China, the Philippines, as the coordinator of China-ASEAN relations, and other ASEAN countries have been maintaining communication on resuming the COC consultation. In fact, recently, a working-level online meeting was held successfully. Given the current situation, China expects all parties to work harder to speed up the negotiation in a flexible and pragmatic way and wants to hold face-to-face consultations in China once conditions permit to push forward the second reading of the COC.
According to Huang, China is willing to continue to strengthen practical cooperation with the Philippines in the South China Sea and promote joint development of oil and gas so as to bring tangible benefits to our two peoples. "What is worth paying attention to is that the world has entered the information age, and data has become the most important "oil and gas" in the era of digital economy. China and the Philippines have mutual advantages in the field of digital economy and have a broad room for cooperation. The two countries should not only promote the traditional joint development of offshore oil and gas, but also vigorously expand cooperation in the field of digital economy.
Huang explained that "resolving disputes through dialogue is the right path that is most in line with the interests of the countries in the region, and maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea is our common task and aspiration.
Regarding the proper handling of the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines, he pointed out:
"First, we must earnestly implement the principles and consensus reached by the two heads of state on the South China Sea issue. This is the foundation for China-Philippines relations to maintain a healthy and stable development.
"Second, we should avoid misjudgment caused by unilateral actions that would complicate the situation in the disputed waters.
"Third, we should continue to maintain close communication on maritime issues through existing dialogue channels such as the BCM (Bilateral Consultation Mechanism) and avoiding media speculation. At the same time, we should promote the establishment of a bilateral maritime and air liaison mechanism to deal with maritime emergencies in a more timely and effective manner."
Merry Christmas to all!