“Unfortunate” was how leftist Secretaries Judy Taguiwalo, Rafael Mariano and Liza Maza described the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to halt peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front.
The three left-leaning Cabinet members said the objectives of the talks were to address the roots of poverty and achieve a just and lasting peace, and pointed out the initial gains that have been made before the talks broke down.
But whatever gains there might have been are now for naught. President Duterte has branded the communists as terrorists. With the latest round of talks in Rome ending inconclusively —the parties were deadlocked over the communists’ demand to release rebels in detention—the latter launched attacks on the government even before the declared suspension of the ceasefire.
At the outset it was clear that the Duterte administration was prepared to bend over backwards just so the talks would progress. It accepted and considered the demands of the communists. Most tellingly, the President appointed Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza to his official family—a clear invitation to be part of nation-building. A Cabinet position, after all, is not an ordinary government post. To be a secretary is to be an alter-ego of the President.
And being so demands that the alter ego act and speak and harbor ideas similar to the President’s. Any less would be an aberration.
In November, there was outrage from some sectors over the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Mr. Duterte allowed it—and the Supreme Court removed all obstacles to it. The three Cabinet members registered their opposition to the burial, but did not step down saying they could agree to disagree within the official family.
Now that the peace talks have broken down again due to apparent bad faith, it makes little sense for Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza to stay on. How can they faithfully carry out their duties as part of the Duterte administration, the same administration that now sees their comrades as terrorists? How can they work within the government that their groups now despise and attack for not giving in completely to their demands?
The breakdown of the talks is more than unfortunate. It is tragic. Peace is always the end in mind but the manner in achieving it is a giveaway to its eventual quality. At some point in the future, the talks must resume but either party must ensure it bears no ill will against the other.
Meanwhile, the three officials must take a stand now where they refused to do so, before. Their ability to perform their Cabinet functions are now compromised by their ideology.