POSTSCRIPT / February 23, 2003 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bush’s war becoming a liability for GMA?

SHADOW PLAY: If you’re confused or have grown cynical of the on-and-off “peace talks” in the Netherlands between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front, the following item will help you understand what’s going on.

This is an inside view provided us by Carlo Butalid, one of the NDF leaders in Western Europe who, with several others, split in 1993 from the group of Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines founder:

“The peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDF is a shadow fight with both protagonists not really sincere in achieving peace, but who need to continue with the process of having peace talks anyway, for other reasons.

“The Philippine government, as a whole, wants to use the talks as a means of neutralizing the NDF, as a cover for convincing some members of the NDF to lay down their arms, and to gain time for them to undermine the NDF/NPA support in their base areas. And to do this without financial cost, and with the least disruption of the present corrupt system.

“The NDF wants to use the talks as a means of achieving ‘belligerency status,’ in which they will have international status as a quasi-state entity — and thus roughly the equivalent in diplomatic status to the Philippine government. It also needs the relatively low level of government operations against the NPA (New People’s Army) during the process of the talks, in order to expand and consolidate its forces. And lastly, it needs the talks to lend legitimacy to Joma Sison’s continued presence in the Netherlands.

“Even though both sides do not really expect to achieve peace during the talks, neither of them could afford to break off from the talks. So, the shadow fight continues…

“The CPP-NDF-NPA leadership is not that united on what to do with the talks. There is a significant bloc within it that wants to stop these talks, and just to intensify the armed struggle. Benito Tiamzon, the party General-Secretary, is said to lead this bloc (“isip-pulbura” to the extreme).

“Others would like to expand their possibilities in the open and parliamentary struggle, and the peace talks would help them in this endeavor. The prominent person in this group would be Satur Ocampo.

“Joma Sison and his loyalists (e.g. Ka Roger) would be the third group; and they fall somewhere in the middle. There are also some powerful regional committees (e.g. those in Northern Luzon, who don’t care too much about these things — as long as the leadership doesn’t interfere too much in their affairs.

“The internal debates within the CPP make Joma’s handling of the peace talks more complicated. He has to make sure that the talks move enough, so as to achieve the tactical gains, e.g. release of prisoners, diplomatic points, and political legitimacy/protection of Joma. But if the talks get to advance too well, Tiamzon and his faction will start accusing them of wanting to abandon the armed struggle, etc.

“This balancing act gets more complicated by the effects of Dutch government moves against Joma. He needs to agitate the Philippine government every now and then, and when the government reacts, he can claim that he has a basis for fearing for his life if he is returned to the Philippines.

“With this formula, Joma has succeeded in keeping the various CPP factions satisfied (or more accurately — not dissatisfied), and at the same time keep him in the media limelight and protect himself from being expelled from the Netherlands.

“The Philippine government, at the same time, has no other choice at the moment than to deal with Joma. Talking with ‘local NPA leaders’ will not work. The trigger-happy followers of Tiamzon will not want to talk; and Joma’s loyalists will not agree to undermine their leader. And the group wanting to expand the possibilities for open organizing and parliamentary work would deny being members of the NDF.

“This strange shadow fight which is the peace talks could go on for quite sometime still.”

What is Joma’s status in the Netherlands? How come he has not been expelled despite his being classified as a terrorist and the Dutch government’s rejection of his petition to stay? See Postscript of Oct. 10, 2002.

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GMA A LA BLAIR?: This being a Sunday, President Arroyo may find time to reflect on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s suddenly uncertain fate. Blair now finds himself in a corner to which he strayed as he followed US President George W. Bush around like a lapdog.

Hours after massive peace marches in London showed this week where a growing number of Britons stood on the impending US invasion of Iraq, the big banks and other key sectors, have started to mull over a post-Blair scenario.

Germany-based WestLB has warned clients, according to BBC News Online, that they should start to think about what might happen to the pound if Blair were to go — and particularly if he were replaced by the current chancellor, Gordon Brown.

“The probability is not high, it has perhaps increased from 2 percent to 10 percent that he will not last,” WestLB currency strategist Michael Klawitter said, noting that Blair has tied himself so closely to Bush.

Anais Faraj, economist of Japanese bank Nomura, had advised clients that Blair’s own future is now at stake. He compared the recent outpouring of peace marchers to the poll tax riot in 1990 that was followed by the exit of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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PINOYS AGAINST WAR: Will President Arroyo suffer similar political erosion and isolation if she continued to follow Bush around on the Iraq question? Possibly — if survey results such as those of the Social Weather Stations are any indication.

In the last quarter of 2002, SWS found that 70 percent of respondents wanted the Philippines to be neutral, or not to take sides in the US fight with Iraq.

While 5 percent were for supporting the US fight even without the blessings of the United Nations, 17 percent favored going with the US only if there is UN cover for the war.

An attack on Iraq will have adverse effects on the local economy, according to 71 percent of respondents. If the Philippines support the US, 72 percent of respondents said, there will be more danger of terrorist attacks in the country.

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GLOBOCOP OMNIPRESENCE: The poor President of this poor country is in a dilemma. She needs the US to pull us out of the economic hole, but Bush is extracting a price that might be too high.

She will have to clarify her stand with the deployment soon in Mindanao of US forces. Pentagon officials said they are to fight alongside Philippine troops to “disrupt and defeat” the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-terror group.

There is no sudden urgency to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf at this time. The idea seems to be to demonstrate the capability of the US, as policeman of the world, to deploy massively in the Middle East and still be able to send simultaneous combat missions elsewhere.

This move in the Philippines, among other places, will answer also the accusation that Bush is obsessed only with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his oil fields.

Note also that suddenly US media are full of reports about North Korea’s supposed provocative acts. Read them in light of accusations that the US is zeroing in only on Iraq when other countries also have weapons of mass destruction and have trampled their citizens’ human rights.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 23, 2003)

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