Return to the negotiating table and talk peace, the Communists and their remaining sympathizers ask the Duterte administration. Then the cadres in the field stage yet another attack like the one they pulled off in Lupon, Davao Oriental last Tuesday, Valentine’s Day.
That day, a group of about 300 New People’s Army rebels put up a roadblock and rounded up 200 civilians, who were asked to alight from their vehicles traversing the highway in Lupon. According to the military, the rebels took the civilians to a nearby chapel, where they were given a “lecture” on the NPA’s grievances against the government.
The rebels released the civilians unharmed, but by then the military had already been alerted and a pursuit operation was launched. A two-hour battle ensued, during which the military said it killed seven rebels before the NPAs retreated to the hinterlands.
If the rebels had not released their civilian captives before the military arrived, things would surely have turned out much bloodier. And the near-miss in Davao Oriental happens a lot these days in the countryside, now that both sides have stopped negotiating.
I’ve already written about how difficult it is for the Communists to convince the people and the government that they are sincere in talking peace, given the dissonance between what their leaders say and what their armed partisans do on the ground. In fact, the apparent lack of coordination between the rebel fighters and their aging leaders in the Netherlands was what convinced President Rodrigo Duterte that the rebels aren’t worth talking to anymore.
“Let it not be said that I did not try,” Duterte said as he announced the pullout from the talks after rebel fighters killed three government troops in Bukidnon. “I guess that peace with the Communists cannot be realized during our generation.”
The fact of the matter is, according to the records of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the past five presidents all went to the negotiating table with the Communists. Forty rounds of formal talks were conducted over those years and 20 agreements of various kinds were signed.
Over the same period, the government released 1,200 detainees as a show of goodwill. But no war-ending peace agreement has ever been agreed upon between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines, its umbrella organization the National Democratic Front and its guerrilla unit, the NPA.
And if the rebels can’t negotiate with Duterte, who has given Cabinet posts to three prominent leftists and sub-Cabinet positions to many others, opened Malacañan Palace to the CPP-NDF-NPA politburo and cultivated a decades-long partnership with the rebels as mayor of Davao City, then perhaps they can’t negotiate with anyone. Either that, or maybe they never really wanted peace from the very beginning.
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Like traditional politicians who will not accept blame for anything wrong they’ve done, the Communists are now saying that the collapse of the talks is really the fault of Duterte and the military. But instead of regaining some sympathy in the eyes of the citizenry by playing the blame game, they seem to be digging a deeper and deeper hole for themselves.
Leaders and spokesmen of the rebels, for instance, have theorized that the three troops killed in a hail of rebel bullets in Bukidnon were actually the victims of ill-intentioned “friendly fire.” From Utrecht, top NDF adviser Luis Jalandoni claimed that the three were the victims of a military rubout—the armed forces killed their fellow government security forces, he said, in order to blame the NPA and hoodwink Duterte into junking the peace process.
As for the president himself, the rebels contended that Duterte was just being “emotional” when he ordered the cessation of the talks. Left unsaid by the Communists was the implication that they are the ones who are using reason in the negotiations, not Duterte.
This is balderdash. The Communists, whose aging party chieftains in the Netherlands have been embarrassed by their obvious lack of control of rebel partisans in the field, are now simply looking for a convenient scapegoat.
And they are also trying—and failing—to convince the citizenry that they did not cause the collapse of the negotiations. This explains why NPA leader Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos announced the rebels’ withdrawal from the talks almost simultaneously with the uneventful conclusion of the third round of negotiations between government representatives and Europe-based rebel advisers in Rome.
But more and more Filipinos no longer believe in what the rebels say. All they know is that the government has gone out of its way to move the peace process forward, but the rebels have reciprocated like they always have: with insincerity and treachery.
No one in his right mind, of course, wants to start a new war with the Communists. But because the rebels have shown no real intention to talk peace, then war seems to be the only recourse left.
And that is not the fault of Duterte, his government or the military. The rebels, who really want war, will just get their heart’s desire.