MANILA — Partido Lakas ng Masa vice presidential aspirant Walden Bello submitted a peace plan proposal to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) last Friday, International Human Rights Day, to address armed conflict in the Philippines.
A copy of the document shared by Laban ng Masa, a group chaired by Bello, identified some issues that, according to the group, contributed to the escalation of armed conflict in the country. These include the termination of peace negotiations with the communist group, the passage of the anti-terror law, and the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), among others.
The group recommended the following measures to address the “root” causes of armed conflict in the country:
- Abolish the NTF-ELCAC, and reactivate and redirect to its original goals the Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
- Demilitarize the civilian bureaucracy; cease appointments of former police and military generals to the Cabinet
- Repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020
- De-list the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as terrorist groups
- Resume peace talks with the NDFP
- Cease all armed hostilities upon the resumption of negotiations, and create zones of peace
- Establish an independent, civilian-led “peace corps”
- Establish local peace councils of barangay, municipal, city representatives, indigenous peoples, religious reps, sectoral reps, non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and people's organizations (POs) reps, and security sector reps, and a National Peace Council
- Support self-determination of indigenous peoples
- Address the root causes of conflict through comprehensive economic and social reforms
President Rodrigo Duterte ended the government's peace negotiations with communist rebels in March 2019.
He signed Executive Order No. 70 in December 2018 for the creation of the NTF-ELCAC. A year prior, he signed a proclamation declaring the CPP-NPA as a terror organization.
Duterte, a former student of CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, is a self-proclaimed socialist who once had good relations with the leftist movement. In the early part of his administration, he appointed leftists to his Cabinet.
In terminating the talks with the NDFP, he cited the communist group's alleged lack of sincerity, noting the continued attacks of the NPA against state troops. He also mentioned an alleged proposal by the group for a coalition government, which, he said, is not acceptable.
Bello said it is vital to address the issues with rebels in order to address the problems faced by the Filipino people.
“Sa tingin ho namin, itong mga programang ‘yung ang talagang kailangang mailatag, ‘yung plan of our people for the future," he said.
(We think these programs are what really need to be laid out, the plan of our people for the future.)
“Kami ho ang partido na may programa. Lahat ng iba, walang programa,” he added.
(We are the party with this kind of program. Everyone else does not have these programs.)
Communist insurgents began waging war mainly in the countryside in the late 1960s, attacking police stations, military outposts, other government facilities, and private companies.
Negotiations for peaceful settlement started in 1987, but had been stalled from time to time.
The NPA strength reached more than 20,000 in the 1980s. While the number has dwindled over the years, various administrations failed to realize their pronounced goals of crushing the armed movement.
The military currently estimates the number of armed communist rebels at 3,500. Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt. Gen. Andres Centino said last month that 43 guerrilla fronts of the NPA remain active in various parts of the country.
Ending communist insurgency in the Philippines will be one of Duterte's legacies when he steps down from power on June 30 next year, his ally Sen. Roland "Bato" Dela Rosa said last month.
Bello is among nearly 30 vice presidential aspirants in the May 2022 elections, that also include Dr. Willie Ong, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, Sen. Tito Sotto, and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
The final list of candidates is expected to be released by the Comelec this month.
—with a from Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News