Angara on Duterte; Duterte on peace talks

Two weeks before he died unexpectedly last Sunday, Edgardo J. Angara, former president of the Senate and the University of the Philippines, who will be interred in his hometown Baler tomorrow, shared some food for thought about the qualities of a national leader and about President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Speaking at the National Defense College, Angara said that a national leader that the people can accept is not a “strongman” but a “consultative leader… who will decide on the basis of consultation.” “It cannot be a one-man rule,” he emphasized, “[the leader] must bring in different constituencies.” Moreover, Angara pointed out, “we must judge him to be a very steady leader, a man who has his own conviction, a man who looks into the future rather than the past.”

As regards President Duterte, Angara told his audience: “My actual personal experience [with him] is he listens to sensible advice.” “The danger,” he hastened to add, “is when there’s no one who can tell his boss [what is] good, bad, or different.”

(Note that since December 2017, Angara had been serving as the special envoy to the European Union, tasked with mending diplomatic relations marred by European leaders’ strong criticisms of the killings entailed in the “war on illegal drugs” and Duterte’s acerbic and curse-laced ripostes. Apparently, the ex-senator’s sensible advice to calm down was heeded by the President, who then sent him to Europe on a mission to ease the tension.)

One may wonder who, if anyone, in the past weeks and months, could have given President Duterte sensible advice over these following issues: the supremely controversial removal (by impeachment or quo warranto proceedings) of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno; what official response to craft in the face of China’s aggressive occupation and militarization of our reefs in the West Philippine Sea, well within our country’s extended economic zone and continental shelf; and not least, resuming the GRP-NDFP formal peace negotiations that he had “terminated” via a presidential decree in November last year.

On Sereno’s removal from office, Duterte and his apologists have persistently denied he had a hand in persecuting her, whereas he had recently publicly called her “my enemy” in a state of pique and threatened to do everything to boot her out of the Supreme Court. In this case, Duterte has shown consistency in giving in to his misogynistic predilections.

As for the West Philippine Sea maritime dispute, Duterte has also been consistent in taking a deferential stance toward China, saying he doesn’t want war with the latter because it would result in a massacre of Philippine forces, and of late even expressing confidence that China would defend the Philippines and himself if there be any attempt to oust him from power. The latter stance spurred retired diplomat Hermenegildo C. Cruz to write, tongue in cheek, an opinion piece saying: “Since China is the only country which has encroached on our territory, Mr. Duterte is thus asking China to protect us from Chinese aggression.”

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On the stalled peace talks with the NDFP, peace advocacy groups and various sectors of society initially welcomed it when President Duterte ordered his negotiators to initiate informal/back-channel discussions with their Left counterparts toward the resumption of the fifth round of formal negotiations. However, this was followed by widespread confusion and misgivings on the seriousness and sincerity of his move, after he suggested that the talks be held in the Philippines (instead of, as in the past, a mutually agreed venue abroad facilitated by the Norwegian government); put forward certain preconditions (barred by the Joint Declaration of The Hague in 1992); and continued his rants tending to denigrate the Left revolutionary forces.

The informal discussions have moved forward nevertheless, but then the GRP side made a recent premature announcement that caused an adverse reaction. This was about the forging of a supposed “interim peace agreement” and the likelihood that formal talks would resume by the second week of June. Through a statement posted in its website, the Communist Party of the Philippines cautioned Duterte government officials to be “more circumspect” in talking publicly about the discreet bilateral discussions in Europe – which have not yet been concluded – “so as not to preempt the outcome” and prejudice the resumption of the formal negotiations.

Adding another disconcerting element was Duterte’s raising the bugaboo of a “genocide” that might happen should the New People’s Army take power in Mindanao. Speaking to the people of Marawi City and Lanao del Sur, he adverted to the mass killings that happened in Cambodia in the late 1970s under the rule of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. Insinuating that the same catastrophe might happen in Mindano, Duterte warned his audience against associating “with a person who does not believe in God,” saying: “You better be careful. At the end of the day, if they get [take over] Mindanao, they will finish us off.”

Why did he say that when, just a month earlier, in Oriental Mindoro, addressing himself to the NPA, he declared: “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.” Talk of consistency…

Besides that snide broadside against the NPA, Duterte has followed after his defense secretary and AFP chief of staff in coaxing members of the revolutionary army to surrender to the government in exchange for financial and material benefits. “Pag mag-surrender kayo,” he said, in a speech in Mulanay, Quezon on May 2, “magbigay rin ako ng pera. Pagsurender mo may bahay na, may pera pa. Bayaran kita” (Once you surrender, I will give you money, plus a house. I’ll pay you). Such a call for surrender is deemed by the NPA as an insult to its members’ political and moral integrity, and is anathema to building mutual trust and confidence in the peace talks.

Apparently, Duterte hasn’t been getting sensible advice from his peace adviser and negotiating panel head, or if he got any he hasn’t taken it seriously. He prefers to listen to and heed the bum advice of his defense secretary, national security adviser, and military generals.

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Published in Philippine Star
May 19, 2018

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