Duterte, a confused and confusing president

“I have terminated the talks with the Reds – the Communist Party of the Philippines with [Jose Maria] Sison. Because in the series of agreements before, even [in] the time of Aquino, they entered into so many things that they scattered [sic] the privileges and power which they wanted. And we summed it all [up] and it would really appear that it was a coalition government. And so I say, ‘I cannot give you an inch of that even. I cannot give you what is not mine.”

These statements are among those let loose by President Duterte in a free-wheeling and rambling speech in Malacanang on Aug. 14, before an audience composed of the country’s top businessmen, foreign diplomats, and government officials (including former president now Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo).

Once again setting aside a prepared speech, he opted to talk about “my personal heartaches and all,” centering on his thoughts about stepping down from office. He was tired and exasperated, he said, that he could not fulfill his promises to the people to end the problems of illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption “even beyond his term.”

Taking note of Arroyo’s presence (toward whom he showed deference), he added, “I do not want to cheapen the presidency, kasi nakakahiya eh.” I suppose he meant that it would be too embarrassing to do so.

But what interests me is his reference to the GRP-NDFP peace talks, which he terminated by issuing Presidential Proclamation 360 in November last year.

(Changing his mind in April 2018, he ordered his peace negotiating panel to engage its NDFP counterpart in backchannel talks toward resuming the formal talks. But then, just as the backchannel discussions had produced three agreements that would have enabled the formal negotiations to proceed apace smoothly, and the fifth round of formal negotiations was set to be held by the end of June, Duterte changed his mind again. He suspended the formal negotiations for three months – a period that would be ending soon – purportedly to enable the GRP panel to engage in wider public consultations and to enable him to review all previously signed agreements.)

I picked out the quotation above because it exposes the President’s apparently confused reading of the previously signed agreements – if indeed he has read all of the pertinent documents. What did he mean by saying the NDFP, representing the CPP-NPA and about 20 other revolutionary organizations, “scattered the privileges and power which they wanted”?

One glaring indication that he hadn’t really read the previous agreements is the phrase “even [in] the time of Aquino.” There was only one signed agreement during the Cory government (in the initial GRP-NDFP peace talks in 1986-87), and it was for a 60-day bilateral ceasefire; nowhere in that document was a reference to a coalition government. In P-Noy’s time (2010-2016), no signed agreement was reached because the talks bogged down soon after the first round of formal talks ended in February 2011.

Such confusion in Duterte’s mind, in turn, must have spurred his confusing decisions that have proved to be inimical to the very objectives of the formal peace negotiations: to address the root causes of the protracted armed conflict; forge the necessary comprehensive bilateral agreements on social, economic and political reforms; and to implement these in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

After the above-quoted statement, Duterte seemed to criticize his chief peace negotiator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, and peace adviser, Jesus Dureza. He said: “So sorry, Atty. Bello was there. He was the one with Dureza. But I didn’t know they [were] backchanneling.”

Was Duterte disowning the order he had given to his peace team to engage in backchannel talks with the NDFP in April-June 2018? One of the agreements produced by the backchannel talks was on a “coordinated unilateral ceasefire,” which the GRP side had been pressing for. It will be interesting to find out how Bello and Dureza are reacting to their principal’s statement. Nothing so far has been heard from them although both had been saying the door remains open for the resumption of the talks.

Duterte capped his remarks about the peace talks by flatly declaring that “I cannot deal with the Communist Party.” So many soldiers and civilians, he added, have been killed; thus “we will have to continue fighting…”

The context in which Duterte spoke about killings is the war of almost 50 years between the government and the Left revolutionary forces that he has repeatedly bemoaned. And each side in the war has claimed high casualties inflicted on the adversary, with the AFP boasting a higher tally of “enemies” killed, not counting the civilians slain as “collateral damage.” And Duterte has been silent on the ever-increasing human rights violations attributed to state security forces under all administrations.

It’s this war that the GRP-NDFP peace talks aim to end by the two sides assiduously addressing its root causes. Yet, Duterte chose to terminate the talks and pursue the war instead.

And he seems to belittle, disparage and disregard all the signed agreements painstakingly negotiated and forged since 1992. The most important among these agreements is the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which the European Parliament, among other institutions, has praised as a landmark agreement that even provides material compensation to the civilians whose rights have been violated by either side in the conduct of the war. The CARHRIHL should have been implemented since 1998, but the GRP has withheld cooperation in this regard.

In reiterating his decision to terminate the talks, Duterte failed to point out that pursuing the long suspended peace negotiations was one of his promises as presidential candidate. He ignored the positive results of the four rounds of formal negotiations supposedly under his watch, from August 2017 to April 2018. In signed joint statements, the two negotiating panels hailed the “unprecedented” meeting of minds on social and economic reforms in such a short period of negotiations held in a mutually agreed-on neutral venue in Europe (Oslo, Norway and in The Netherlands). One such consensus is the free distribution of agricultural land to peasants and farm workers as the “basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.”

Clearly, Duterte has lost his bearings vis-à-vis the GRP-NDFP peace talks. He has fully adopted the militarist solution, which one administration after another since Marcos has proved to be unattainable.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com.

Published in Philippine Star
Aug. 18, 2018

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