POSTSCRIPT / December 31, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Talk to NPA rebels on local grievances

WE SEE more sense in the suggestion to talk peace directly with the communist rebels in the countryside rather than the cabal purporting to lead the five-decade-old insurgency from the safety and comfort of the Netherlands.

The members of the New People’s Army are doing the fighting and dying. It is only fair that the government directly address their local grievances while looking for ways to embrace them back into the mainstream.

The holding of “localized peace engagements” is being pushed by presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., who reports such encouraging developments as the surrender of NPA members and militias and the returnees’ turning a new leaf.

“The LPE approach directly addresses the needs of communities and prevents them from being exploited by insurgents,” Galvez said. “The government provides basic services, livelihood, and security, among other things, as a means of capacitating them.”

Taking back his decision in 2017 to stop the talks with the National Democratic Front in the Netherlands led by self-exiled Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison, President Duterte has reopened lines to the rebel leader.

Negotiations broke down in 2017 with the NPA complaining that government had occupied rebel-held barrios and failed to release political prisoners. Duterte himself reacted to an escalation of NPA attacks, including an ambush on a Presidential Security Group convoy in North Cotabato.

His reopening of discussions looks like his last-ditch effort to end the insurgency before his term ends in 2022. Duterte will be 75 in March to Sison’s 81 in February. To help set a climate conducive to fresh talks, a ceasefire was declared for Dec. 23 to Jan. 7.

But on the very first day of the ceasefire, the NPA attacked government troops in Camarines Norte and Iloilo. This raised questions on the foreign-based leaders’ control over their fighters on the ground.

The CPP-NDF representing the insurgents in the negotiations has rejected the localized peace talks, saying the reforms needed to end the insurgency must be on a national level.

The front said in July 2018: “Localized talks are a classic divide and rule tactic. The idea is to hoodwink local CPP leaders and NPA commanders into agreeing to local ceasefire arrangements and later on induce them to surrender.”

Galvez has reported that the LPEs have led to mass surrender of CPP-NPA members of Southern, Northeastern, and Western Mindanao regional party committees operating in Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao and CARAGA.

We think a multi-sectoral “open arms” program — managed not by the military but by civilian agencies supported by local governments and people’s organizations — could discuss reintegration not in the context of surrender, but of a return to a productive normal life.

In rejecting localized talks, the CPP-NDF said such problems as landlessness and poverty that prompted rebels to take up arms need to be addressed through nationwide reforms.

We suggest, however, that area-specific grievances that do not run through the entire country be addressed in consultation with local rebels. Regional reform and rehabilitation programs could be pilot-tested to show what the government is ready and willing to do.

Both sides could take advantage of the advent of a new year and capitalize on President Duterte’s desire to end the half-century rebellion that has claimed tens of thousands of Filipino lives and billions in wasted resources.

Sison has rejected Duterte’s invitation to come to the Philippines for a one-on-one with a guarantee that he would not be arrested. But he said he would meet the President anywhere in Asia, but not in the Philippines. There must be a middle ground.

Both leaders are Filipinos in their twilight years who have seen enough of violence. We presume they both love their country, which should be enough basis for them to scale down their maximum terms to open another avenue for relative peace and inclusive prosperity.

 Help us dispose of the trash and restart

BEFORE we close the year tonight to usher in a New Year tomorrow, let us collect our trash, sort it and dispose of it properly.

After disposing of the garbage, we ask readers to help us press the Restart button for the New Year.

It is not a Reset that would erase everything and push us back to zero. While we have committed some horrible errors, there are much more substantial matters we look back to with satisfaction that we would like to keep and build on.

But let us first redefine what we are and why we are here.

We believe that private media must take a position that is more critical than collaborative in relation to government. No private media practitioner or journalist must be on the payroll of the government or a government-controlled entity.

Private media, regardless of what their owners think or envision, perform a duty akin to the check and balance relationship among the three co-equal branches of government.

Government officials who exercise a certain amount of control over the lives and fortunes of citizens must submit to the strict accountability required under the Constitution. Media help check on them.

While we apologize for (and correct) factual errors in reportage, we stand firm in our exposition of our opinion on public affairs and the performance of officials.

With the erosion of the constitutionally mandated balance among the three co-equal branches of government – with the President now enjoying an disproportionate influence on the legislature and the judiciary — the more media should heighten their vigilance against abuses.

Finally, we want to clarify again that a column such as our Postscript is, by definition, necessarily opinionated. We are not writing news, but opinion.

We assure everybody, especially those in government who may not like some of our comments, that we mean no harm and bear no ill feeling. We are just contributing to the dialog on current issues affecting our common lives as Filipinos.

The discussion of media’s role is an entire library, so we would rather do it page by page as the need arises — as it does now when we are about to press the Restart button.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 31, 2019)

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