Philippines fragile peace process nears breaking point

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Jun 28 2018 09:26 PM

The National Democratic Front forces are ready for any permanent break down in peace talks with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government but rebel peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili said they would not give the mercurial leader an excuse to unleash martial law nationwide.

“Hindi tayo nagsasawa,” Agcaoili said in response to a question from Nona Castillo, wife of detained political prisoner Ferdinand Castillo, on how many cancellations are needed before Asia’s longest running insurgency walks away from the peace talks.

“Pero hindi din tayo magpapaloko,” the NDF peace panel head said, dismissing calls by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza for joint public consultations on landmark agreements waiting to be signed. 

“Gusto nilang ipalabas na walang labanan ... but there is a civil war, there are two governments, and we are not an NGO,” Agcaoili said on Skype at the forum "Peace Under Siege: Is Just Peace Possible Under a Despotic Regime?”

“Any side can move to terminate,” said Agcaoili. “But if we walk first, he will use it as an excuse to unleash his fascist dictatorship.”

Agcaoili, however, warned that a formal government withdrawal of recognition for already signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), “then they may no longer be any reason to continue the talks.”

He was referring to reports that the defense establishment had asked for a review of agreements signed under previous governments. 

Dureza said Duterte decided to postpone the fifth round of talks, scheduled this month, to allow stakeholders to weigh in on a stand down agreement and two key economic agreements nearing final signing status. 

Duterte has said he needs to listen to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the generals of the Armed Forces. 

Agcaoili said the military and Duterte do not want a stand down agreement that would force the government and rebel armies to remain in place.

"That’s because they want to fulfil their threat to end or render irrelevant the NPA by December 2018,” he said.

Lorenzana last week warned rebels were using peace talks to consolidate their forces and expand recruitment into their ranks.

The NDF has always readied itself for any breakdown, the panel chair said.

“It’s nearing untenable stratus,” he acknowledged, citing new draconian measures like the crackdown on street loiterers and continuing killings linked to Duterte’s drug war.

He also said Duterte’s incendiary remarks, the arrests and killings of activists and threats against churches and human rights groups are meant to provoke rebel forces.

“Siya mag-terminate,” Agcaoili said. (Let him terminate.)

“Revolutionary and progressive forces must exercise vigilance and be committed to act in self-defense, especially forces in the underground,” he added. “We must not let down our guard."