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POSTSCRIPT / August 28, 2016 / Sunday
Under ceasefire, NPA keeps territory?
By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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WE SUPPORT the peace process ongoing between the Duterte administration and the Communist rebels and welcome their agreement for an indefinite ceasefire forged this week in Oslo, Norway, but because of the paucity of details published we have some questions.

When the ceasefire took effect yesterday, will the opposing forces on the ground stay as is-where is? Does the ceasefire allow the New People’s Army to hold its “territory” indefinitely without facing challenge from government troops?

Will the Duterte administration allow the Communist rebels to continue collecting “revolutionary” taxes as if it were another government?

We posed the question yesterday on Twitter and Teddy Locsin Jr., one of several reactors, replied: “No. It will be part of the government. No need and the revolution will be over.”

The NPA pretends to be some kind of de facto government by, among other acts, collecting taxes and dispensing its own brand of swift justice to show up, by contrast, the slow due process in the regular courts.

When the parties presented their credentials in Oslo, who was the principal of the panel led by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III? Was it President Rodrigo Duterte, or the administration, or the government? Somebody is bound to ask what the difference is. A lot.

By what process and upon whose order – the Executive or the Judiciary — were the National Democratic Front consultants released from detention/prison so they could participate in Oslo?

Why is the NPA no longer referring to soldiers and policemen that they capture, and soon will release, as “prisoners of war”? Is this part of a mutually agreed de-escalation of revolutionary rhetoric? The dropping of the term brings down the dialogue to reality.

Calling the captives “prisoners of war” is a sly way of saying that the NPA is locked in a people’s war against an equal and opposite government. What is going on is not really such a war, but simply insurgents’ sowing mayhem for leverage and to make their presence felt.

In the rebel panel led by NDF chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni were Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison and his wife Julie, NDF spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili, panel member Coni Ledesma, NDF Representative to the Nordic countries Asterio Palma, NDF consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, CPP chair Tirzo Alcantara, and CPP secretary-general Alan Jazmines. Also present were NDF co-founder and former Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Satur Ocampo, Vicente Ladlad, Rafael Baylosis and Randall Echanis.

We said in our Postscript last Aug. 2 that there is no more reason for the rebels to continue fighting since a sympathetic “Duterte, a confessed socialist, has broken into the inner sanctum of the despised Establishment and captured it from inside and from the top. xxx With him as a populist president, change for the long-suffering Filipino is at hand.”

The rebel leaders are smart in taking advantage of the Duterte phenomenon with alacrity. Unless the President works out his holdover, like by rewriting the Constitution, it would be long after his term that they would see a more favorable time to rejoin the mainstream, before old age overtakes them.

• Will ceasefire hold on the ground?

A CRITICAL test of the peace process is ensuring that the ceasefire holds. If NPA fighters violate it, the infraction would show that the ageing CPP and NDF seniors running the rebellion by remote control from Europe may have lost touch with their foot soldiers.

Incidentally, the NPA is on the US state department list of foreign terrorist groups, together with the Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Hamas in Palestine, and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. The movements of its members and its funds are presumably monitored by the US government.

Despite the NPA’s being on the terrorist list, the Netherlands has given its associated group NDF a political refugee status, among other privileges, enabling them to pursue a rebellion against the Philippine government with which the Dutch are supposed to be friendly.

At the end of the Oslo talks, Bello announced that both parties agreed on six contentious issues. Aside from the ceasefire, the panels re-affirmed commitment to previously signed agreements, such as The Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in 1996, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998.

Both sides also agreed to reconstitute the so-called JASIG list that has the pictures and identities of NDF consultants still in hiding but who are granted immunity from arrest during the negotiations. They include 54 “publicly known” NDF consultants and 87 guerilla leaders known only by their assumed names.

The negotiators also agreed to recommend that President Duterte issue an Amnesty Proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress, for NDF members who have been arrested, imprisoned or charged.

Hoping that the mutual trust so far generated will last, both sides have expressed optimism that a comprehensive peace agreement can be signed within a year. A follow-up meeting is set Oct. 8 to 12 in Oslo to discuss socioeconomic reforms and arrive at a consensus in six months.

The Duterte administration is not saying it, but it appears that the communist-inspired insurgency rooted in poverty, discontent and misgovernment is easier to tackle than the secessionist Moro problem abetted by a neighboring country.

It helps that the nation is now led by a straight-talking Duterte who is not identified with the ruling elite that is largely blamed for the socio-political inequities fueling grievances.

 

(First published in The Philippine STAR of August 28, 2016)

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