By SATUR C. OCAMPO
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
The peace talks now going on in Oslo between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, having moved on to the deep-seated problems that have been sustaining the CPP-NPA-led armed struggle over 40 years, were the subject of editorial comment in this newspaper the other day.
I think that certain points were correctly spotlighted and interpreted in the editorial, but it is amiss on others. In the spirit of healthy debate, then:
1. “After the 1986 people power revolt, Corazon Aquino freed communist rebels and began peace talks with them. The peace initiative was among the factors used by rightist rebels as an excuse for repeated attempts to grab power.”
The first sentence is factual. President Cory fulfilled her promise to free political prisoners of the Marcos dictatorship, mostly identified with the Left, because they were victims of injustices and human rights violations. For the same reason, President Noynoy can heed the human rights groups’ appeal to free the 300 political prisoners mostly arrested under the Arroyo administration.
The second sentence may be true, because the Reform the Armed Forces Movement accused Mrs. Aquino of being “soft” on the Left. In fact, before the Mendiola Massacre on Jan. 21, 1987, which caused the peace talks to collapse, government panel head Tito Guingona Jr. told me (as his counterpart) that the RAM had threatened the government panel with physical harm if it pursued the talks.
2. “…the New People’s Army has been reduced to violent extortion, mercenary assassination and banditry…. NPA attacks are seen as a law enforcement problem rather than a political one.”
These are claims parlayed through the media, coupled with legally questionable practices of the previous governments, carried over to the present administration.
Since the late 1980s, the government has resorted to the “criminalization of political offenses.” Instead of rebellion, a bailable political offense, prosecutors have filed common-crime charges — mainly murder, which is nonbailable — against arrested persons suspected as CPP-NPA leaders or members. The deaths of government soldiers in NPA ambuscades are tagged as murders, the confiscation of their weapons, as robbery in band.
Thus, the recent arrests of Tirso Alcantara (alleged NPA head in Southern Tagalog) and Alan Jazmines (alleged CPP central committee member) are attributed to several murder charges filed against them, rather than to their presumed involvement in rebellion. The NDFP says the two are consultants in the peace talks and demands their immediate release.
Under Article 6 of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the government commits to abide by the Hernandez doctrine laid down by the Supreme Court in 1956, which says that all other crimes committed in pursuance of rebellion are deemed subsumed by rebellion. It further commits to review the cases of all prisoners detained, charged with, or convicted contrary to this doctrine, and to release them immediately.
Hopefully, this long-standing issue shall be resolved through the convening of the Joint Monitoring Committee to implement the CARHRIHL, expected after the GPH-NDFP formal peace talks wind up on Feb. 21.
3. “And yet the communists have managed to survive without completely losing their image as an insurgent group. This is because they have received periodic injections of legitimacy, courtesy of weak or abusive governments and entrenched systems that breed social injustice… The CPP-NPA continued to feed on public resentment against injustice, corruption, and a feudal system that made the rich richer and the poor still impoverished.”
Essentially, this is a valid assessment. However, the phrases “without completely losing their image as an insurgent group” and “have received periodic injections of legitimacy” need to be clarified.
First, isn’t it presumed that being an “insurgent group” is positive, since being “reduced to violent extortion, mercenary assassination and banditry” is negative? Second, isn’t the NPA an insurgent group in reality, not only in image? Third, how come it gets only “periodic injections of legitimacy” by weak, abusive governments and entrenched systems breeding social injustice, whereas the latter have been constant facts in our national life?
Also, not only the feudal system causes the widening gap between the few rich and the very many poor. The bigger factor is foreign domination of our economy, made worse in the last decades by neoliberal globalization policies pursued by successive governments.
4. The piece concludes: “If these problems can be addressed decisively by an administration that is promising good governance, the CPP-NPA will be rendered irrelevant and a formal peace agreement unnecessary.”
Unwittingly perhaps, the editorial picks up the military’s objective, stated in its Internal Peace and Security Plan, Oplan Bayanihan: “…focus on rendering the NPA irrelevant, with the communist insurgency abandoning its armed struggle and engaging in peace negotiations with the government.”
It would have been more relevant to pick up instead President Cory’s promise, reiterated by President Noynoy in resuming the peace talks: “to address the root causes of the armed conflict.”