OPINION: The elusive peace in the countryside

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Dec 30 2019 05:09 PM

Who wouldn’t want peace? I had to ask myself that. Before the President could even officially start as Chief Executive, he already hit the ground running. Talks were already ongoing even before he set foot in Malacanang. Upon the nomination of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Secretary Rafael Mariano, Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, and Secretary Liza Maza were all appointed to DAR, DSWD, and NAPC, respectively. This was unprecedented, to say the least. It was a concrete illustration of the President’s intent to finally put an end to the decades-old, probably the longest running insurgency in the world.

Then there is the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, also known as CASER. This has not been publicized much and to my mind, it should be discussed more in public in order to fully understand the peace process. In fact, if the public knew more about the CASER, the people will know that the peace process is not just about guns and ceasefire and/or a debate on ideologies which has become more of an oxymoron.

If the President has shown he really means to have peace, so have the communist rebels with their push for the CASER. And the government supports the CASER; there are many details that have to be discussed, say for example, the proposal to suspend existing trade and investment agreements, but by and large, both sides agree that there are substantial reforms that have to be seriously pushed if we are to really achieve peace. In other words, the rebels are among those pushing for real reforms in the country.

In fact, both parties came to some crucial agreements on the CASER on April 2017. Quoting extensively from the Closing Statement on the CASER published by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the following are important points agreed to by the parties.

1.    The parties agreed to conclude the unfinished distribution of land and do this for free for the landless and poor farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk with just compensation to owners. The immediate focus is the distribution of the remaining balance of the lands for distribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).

2.    The parties agreed that resources for land acquisition and provision of adequate support services should be mobilized to fulfill the requirements of the agreement. These resources may come in the form of proceeds from the recovery of the Marcos hidden wealth; the unremitted portion of foreign debt payments, subject to approval of Congress and allocation through the General Appropriations act.

3.    The parties agreed that agrarian justice should be dispensed quickly to resolve disputes in land ownership and related cases for the benefit of poor and landless farmers, farm workers and fisherfolks.

4.    The parties agreed to form and convene Bilateral Terms to reconcile provisions of their CASER drafts on agrarian reform and rural development.

5.    The parties also agreed to mobilize resources to work for the passage of a new agrarian reform law that would embody the agreements.

So much have been accomplished in that little time that the peace process was ongoing. In fact, political and administrative reforms were also substantially discussed. I know this as some of those in the peace panel asked some of the then members of the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution (ConCom) of their willingness to participate and serve as resource persons. During that little time, it was shown that the real reformers in and out of government and the rebels understood the need for comprehensive reforms needed to have real development in the country.

Only the utterly self-interested party would not want to end the insurgency, especially given all the above milestones and details of the ongoing peace process. I remember having read the renowned Luis Teodoro’s opinion peace in June 2016 saying that,

“No Filipino politician—certainly not Benigno S. C. Aquino III, to whom the mere mention of peace talks with the NDFP was enough to provoke summary dismissal of the idea—has ever gone to such lengths to assure the combatants and the political leaders of the longest running 'insurgency' in Asia of his commitment to an honorable peace, much less to assume that there is something the government can learn from the program of the mainstream Left for the transformation of Philippine society.”

I have to say I myself am guilty of judging the communists of insincerity, by asking incessantly why despite the supposed ceasefires, the NPAs continue to attack. I have been asking too why, compared to the MNLF and the MILF, who have signed countless agreements with the government, the NDF has yet to have any. I thought these are legitimate questions but then recently, thanks to my friends who have taken part in the peace process, I was told it is just far more complicated, and that we have to have more patience in pursuing and successfully making peace.

It is important to understand the recent declarations of ceasefire, for example. On December 22, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) issued the following.

“Upon the recommendation of the Negotiating Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines declares to all commands and units of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the people’s militias a nationwide ceasefire order that will take effect from 00:00H of 23 December 2019 to 23:50H of 7 January 2020.

"This ceasefire order is being issued simultaneously with and shall be effective upon the corresponding and reciprocal ceasefire orders in the form of Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO) to be issued by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) as a gesture of goodwill and confidence-building measure.”

Note the qualification in the statement which I italized, “with and shall be effective upon the corresponding and reciprocal ceasefire orders” from the government. Then, on the eve of Christmas Day, 24 December, we read about the reports of attacks by the NPA. Philippine Star’s headline read, “NPA stages ambush on Day One of truce” while the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports “NPA attacks mar ceasefire”. Then, on 27 December, 3 days after the reported “attacks”, came the news that the NDF finally received copies of the government ceasefire orders, i.e. the SOPO and SOMO.

Unless of course you think this is being technical and/or legal and just dismiss it as just an excuse, the requisite reciprocal ceasefire orders are important, as it is the very manifestation of the agreement between the parties. This could have been noted by the media at the outset instead of coming up with those rather misleading and inflaming headlines. Note that headlines are fundamental in any news report as many don’t read the whole report and rely simply on what the headlines say.

We have to ask then why it took time for the government to issue the SOMO and the SOPO. Issuing it a day after the declaration of a ceasefire is expected, 2 days would already be long, but 3 days is something else. The government is one unified organization compared to the NPA. Taking time to act is but expected as the panels, the NDF as well as the Government Peace panels can only recommend to their principals.

We have to be patient and sensitive if we are to expect the peace process to not only make remarkable headway but ultimately to succeed. We have already accomplished a lot as we went through how things have been in the last 3 years. We have hawks on both sides and unfortunately, they hold important positions. So, the test on both sides is so much on neutralizing those who reject peace, and as much as possible getting them on board. It is such an uphill battle I have to say.

(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

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