By DOMINIC CAPULONG and ALESSANDRA MERCADO
MANILA — It has been more than a week since Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son, and namesake of the late dictator, was inaugurated. But prospects for peace remain uncertain with the newly-installed administration neither having a peace adviser nor a clear stance on how it will proceed with the peace process.
“I think they will stand in the election slogan of the Marcos Jr. administration in their rhetoric word “unity. There’s a small possibility because the new administration is meant for unity,” said Mervin Toquero, peace advocate and program secretary for Faith, Witness, and Service of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).
Marcos Jr., who won under the banner of supposedly pushing for unity, said during the election campaign that he is unwilling to resume peace talks. He was quoted as saying that “nothing else we can say but to treat them as enemies because they are fighting us, and as such, we need to defend ourselves.”
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“Until now there are no clear plans regarding peace talks except Ms. Clarita Carlos, the National Secretary Adviser of President Marcos Jr., who pushes for localized talks,” Toquero said, adding however that the National Democratic Front of the Philippines does not engage in localized talks.
“You cannot solve a national problem through localized talks,” Toquero said.
What happened in the peace talks under Duterte?
The peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines progressed in the first months of negotiations under former President Rodrigo Duterte. His 2017 unilateral termination of the peace talks however halted the negotiations on social and economic reforms, the second agenda item in the GRP-NDFP talks as stipulated in 1992 The Hague Declaration.
The aborted talks could have included free land distribution to farmers, and better working conditions for the ordinary folk, to name a few.
Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and chief political consultant of the NDFP, recently affirmed that the NDFP has always been open to peace negotiations with the Philippine government, whoever the president may be.
“If the incoming Marcos administration is willing to talk, why not?” he said when asked about the prospects of resuming the stalled talks during the launch of his latest book “On the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations” last June 28.
Sison noted however that there are no indications that Marcos would like to pursue peace talks, which, he added, could have been easy “by simply reaffirming the agreements that were previously agreed upon and signed by the two parties in the negotiations.”
Among these previously signed agreements, however, include the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which acknowledges human rights violations during Marcos Sr. martial law, among others.
Toquero said that both parties need to sit down and neither of them can unilaterally change the previously signed agreements
What peace advocates are looking for in a gov’t peace adviser?
For peace advocate Toquero, the next presidential peace adviser “should be open-minded, acceptable to both NDFP and the government. He said it would be best if the peace adviser has a background in human rights so that he or she will see the roots of armed conflict,” he said.
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Sison, for his part, noted that not a single post-Marcos Sr. administration spent more than a year into the peace negotiations, and instead resorted to lip service to the cause of peace, while at the same time carrying out surveillance, and “preserving the exploitative and oppressive ruling system and trying to maneuver the NDFP into a position of capitulation.”
“There is nothing that the NDFP can do to resume the peace negotiations if the GRP insists on carrying out an all-out war policy,” he added.
Roles of peace advocates
Toquero said that with President Marcos Jr. yet to release any statement about peace, advocates need to make their call louder.
Marcos Jr.’s call for unity, no matter how rhetorical it may sound, is considered a small opening for peace, Toquero said.