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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Amnesty and peace talks

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The Marcos Jr. administration has taken a step in the right direction by granting amnesty to rebels, including the members of the Maoist-led New People’s Army still engaged in armed struggle in the countryside.

This could lead to release of more than 800 rebels convicted of various crimes in pursuit of rebellion and languishing in various prisons.

But the administration has gone a step further and signed an interim agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) in Oslo, Norway for the resumption of formal peace talks in the spirit of national unity and reconciliation to put an end to more than 50 years of armed conflict in the country.

If the two sides proceed to the negotiating table and thresh out the issues that stand in the way of ending poverty, corruption and social injustice, they should do so with a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Previous peace talks failed miserably because the armies of both sides continued to lunge at each other’s throats even as their peace negotiators tried to work out a deal.

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Previous peace talks were held abroad with the Norwegian government as intermediary. Obviously, Oslo can still perform that role.

With a neutral or disinterested party able to assist in threshing out differences in opinion between the two sides on certain issues, the peace negotiations can proceed in earnest.

In the past, the CPP-NPA-NDF considered peace talks as a forum for political propaganda, a venue to explain their stand on such issues as agrarian reform, human rights and electoral reforms and to expose the state as a mechanism for continued elite control of the country’s politics and economy and the need for them to seize political power through the barrel of a gun.

This hardline position should be discarded in favor of an approach that looks at the peace talks as a last-ditch effort to stop the conflict and save lives.

The stark reality is that since 1968, the armed rebellion has cost at least 30,000 lives on both sides, with many others injured in the battlefield and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and displaced from their homes.

This must stop if we want to reduce the ranks of the poor through sustained economic growth.

The armed rebellion in the Philippine countryside cannot – should not – be allowed to go on for years and decades more without an agreement by both sides to stop the fighting.

Filipinos deserve a well-deserved respite from fratricidal violence in the past five-and-a-half decades.

We all have to agree to give peace a chance – or else the country cannot go anywhere but down.

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