In his latest turnabout on the issue, President Duterte apparently seeks to convince the public that he is dead set on continuing the GRP-NDFP peace talks that he unilaterally “terminated” just before the start of the fifth round of formal negotiations in November 2017.
Twice this month, he has made such a public affirmation. On April 3 in Oriental Mindoro, he addressed himself to the New People’s Army, saying: “You know, we’re not enemies… I want to pursue the peace talks with you… I want peace under my watch. I do not hold a grudge against you. I understand you.” Then, in Legazpi City on April 22, he raised the ante for his call to resume the negotiations, saying: “My duty, my fundamental basic duty is to see to it that the country is peaceful.”
Duterte has directed his peace panel to engage their NDFP counterparts in back-channel discussions, giving them 60 days to get back on track the twice-cancelled fifth round of formal negotiations. On April 12, his peace adviser Jesus Dureza alluded to ongoing “quiet” talks; five days later he announced, “I think we are back on track.” Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on April 24, Dureza explained:
“President Duterte cancelled the talks in November 2017 because he felt that there was no enabling environment conducive to resuming the negotiations. Today he has found time and effort to already start resuming the negotiations.”
What “enabling environment conducive to resuming the negotiations” made Duterte change his mind, Dureza didn’t mention. For sure it’s not the hardline stance of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which the President had kept saying he needed to consult, whenever he was asked if he would still pursue the GRP-NDFP negotiations.
In his Legazpi City speech, Duterte made reference to that fact. He said, “I’m talking to [Joma] Sison now. It’s an off-and-on thing. Probably, ang mga military pati mga pulis may misgivings, but sinabi ko na sa inyo (the military and the police may have misgivings, but I’ve already told you): I am not a president who is a soldier and I am not a president who is a policeman.” Did he mean to say he didn’t think like the military and the police?
True to form, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana let out his deep “misgiving” toward the peace negotiations, while saying that he supported his commander-in-chief’s decision to pursue the same. On April 14, he remonstrated:
“Peace is not their purpose, but to take advantage. When the government declared a ceasefire [at the start of formal negotiations in August 2016], the NPA benefited more than the government. Their leaders were freed and went abroad to join the negotiations and they also launched massive recruitment in upland areas, taking advantage of the peaceful situation.”
Note that Lorenzana didn’t say the NPA violated the ceasefire. What he didn’t say, however, was that the AFP was taking its own advantage during that same August ceasefire. Recently retired AFP chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, who at the time headed the Eastern Mindanao Command, declared then:
“Now that the ceasefire with the CPP-NPA is in effect, we expect that the implementation of the government’s peace and development program in the countryside will be able to proceed much faster…” Ordering his troops to carry out their job, Guerrero added: “I also call on our partners and stakeholders to continue supporting our efforts to clear the remaining 156 NPA-affected barangays by yearend.”
That order resulted in AFP units continuing to conduct military operations in and occupying civilian communities “from Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao” over five months, as recorded in NPA field reports submitted to the NDFP negotiating panel. Despite these intrusions in NPA-held areas, the reports say, NPA units averted armed clashes by maneuvering away from the state troops. In early 2017, the NDFP panel handed these reports to the GRP panel as evidence of the AFP’s violating the spirit of the reciprocal ceasefire.
Lorenzana continues to make more venomous statements, gravely denigrating and brazenly undermining the peace negotiations. On the 45th anniversary of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) last April 24, he crowed:
“With the government’s sincere efforts to achieve peace even without formal talks, the NDFP is fast becoming irrelevant. Through the government’s various programs for reintegration [read: “surrender”], thousands of former rebels have rejoined society.”
He referred to the AFP’s boasting that, during the six-month tour of duty of Gen. Guerrerro as chief of staff (October 2017-April 17, 2018), more than 5,000 “NPA rebels” surrendered to the government. The figure was starkly false. Why? It exceeded the alleged number of NPA fighters that the AFP itself claimed to be only 4,000, more or less. Guerrero then had admitted that most of the “surrenderees” were not combatants but civilians forced into admitting they were NPA supporters.
From plying that blatant fake news, Lorenzana further badmouthed the NDFP. “While NDFP representatives negotiate with government in a foreign land,” he blathered, “their armed comrades perpetrate deceptive and coercive recruitment and, at the same time, continue the conduct of extortion, kidnapping, murder, destruction of property and other criminal acts, exposing their true terrrorist nature.”
Then Lorenzana bared the DND-AFP end-game: “Under President Duterte’s guidance, we are more determined than ever to extend our call for peace and unity – a call for the remaining CPP-NPA to lay down their arms…”
On his part, newly sworn-in AFP chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., speaking at the change-of-command rites in Camp Aguinaldo on April 18, vowed “full support” to the peace process with the MILF and the MNLF. But not with the NDFP. Instead, he called on “our Muslim brothers and sisters… to join the AFP in the fight against all forms of violent extremism… our campaign to end insurgency and terrorism.” “Together,” he boasted, “we shall render the CPP-NPA-NDFP irrelevant.”
Spoilers of the peace talks, indeed, these two militarists are!
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Published in Philippine Star
April 28, 2018