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The peace talks, then and now

By: CMFR Staff, Posted on: July 5, 2023, 2:00 pm, Updated on: July 6, 2023, 4:09 pm

ANOTHER CHAPTER looms in the on-again off-again peace talks between the government and communist insurgents. Given the long history of peace negotiations, journalists should provide background and context to reports of current developments. 

On June 8, newly appointed Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said in a press briefing that he was against reviving peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF), political wing of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), describing the move as a “subversion of the democratic process.” If the second Marcos administration turns its back on the negotiation table, it will be the first administration since 1986 to do so. 

While the media reported on Teodoro’s remarks and included reactions of other groups and officials, coverage failed to include the bigger context and the background of the conflict and peace negotiations. 

How the Media Reported

Rappler, in an exclusive report on June 7, talked with NDF negotiating panel interim chair Juliet de Lima in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She said the NDF had yet to see the Marcos administration’s interest in resuming negotiations. Bulatlats article on June 9, which cited de Lima’s statement, echoed the same points.

Manila Bulletin and Manila Standard, both on June 11, cited lawmaker Rufus Rodriguez who said the state should talk peace instead of “finishing off” the communists. “Just one Filipino the government could save by talking with communists is worth all the effort,” he said.

Similarly, Bulletin and Inquirer.net, on June 6, reported House Deputy Minority leader France Castro’s statement urging Teodoro to call for peace talks and let the military focus on external aggression amid the tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Meanwhile, think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform were cited in Business WorldandInterAksyonwhereboth argued that negotiation is the least costly option.

On June 9, only TV5’s Frontline Tonightexplained that other communist groups in other parts of the world are legal. The report also reviewed what Philippine laws and past presidents have said on communism.

A Long Fight

After taking office in 1987, then President Corazon Aquino initiated the peace process by releasing political prisoners detained during the dictatorship of Marcos Sr. She set up the Peace Commission that laid the ground for peace negotiations. In 1992, President Fidel V. Ramos established the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) and repealed the Anti-Subversion Act, thus assuring communists of political space. 

It was also under Ramos that two important agreements were signed: the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl). Because of these agreements, there was a real sense of the possible paths to peace. 

But the talks stalled under different administrations. President Joseph Estrada pursued a more militant approach, deploying troops to attack and take CPP’s strongholds. The negotiations under Present Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo broke down after the United States listed the New People’s Army (NPA) and CPP as terrorist organizations. Under Benigno Aquino III, the talks ended after the NDF demanded the release of political prisoners.  

From Friend to Foe

President Rodrigo Duterte was a more enthusiastic advocate of peace talks, having been friendly with communist leaders as mayor of Davao City. He boasted that he was a “left-leaning” president. In 2016, there was hope that the negotiations would progress quickly. He declared himself open to the negotiations, released political prisoners, and appointed leftist leaders to his Cabinet. 

The government and the NDF had been inching toward affirming past agreements and drafting a bilateral ceasefire agreement. They also agreed to fast track discussions on the third agreement on the agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms

However, tensions flared between the two camps amid intensifying military and guerilla encounters. Soon after, the ceasefire ended, the Jasig terminated, and the talks canceled. In December 2017, Duterte formally issued Proclamation No. 374, labeling the NPA as a “communist terrorist group” and declaring an “all-out-war” against the rebels.

‘Whole of Nation’

In December 2018, Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) 70 which institutionalized a “whole of nation” approach in dealing with communist rebels. It created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) as the key agency that would facilitate this approach. The task force included winning back communities who were supposedly under the influence of the CPP-NPA-NDF and help conflict-affected areas by responding to their social needs.

However, as CMFR has pointed out, while the NTF-ELCAC aimed for poverty alleviation in far-flung communities, it waged a propaganda war and legal offensive against not only the CPP-NPA-NDF but also individuals and groups that it deemed to be communist supporters and sympathizers, including civilians. This propaganda warfare, coupled with the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Law in 2020, launched the practice later labeled as red-tagging.

CMFR previously cheered and published these other explainers:

Why Is this Important?

Amid the backdrop of the fighting between government troops and communist insurgents, communities suffer from human rights violations and the trauma of many forms of insurgency-related violence. Most recently, on June 14, a couple and their two minor children were massacred in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental. The husband had earlier been red-tagged.

That incident, along with other cases, should prompt local government units, peace advocates, and the public to push both sides to resume negotiations. The news media have a role to play in all this. Instead of treating the word war and armed clashes as separate incidents, they should provide news with both broad and close contexts. 

The military approach may decimate the remaining lightning forces in NPA camps. But such challenges will rise again if more Filipinos continue to burden injustice. 

Media should also engage the public in the discussion, finding points of relevance to different sectors. An approach involving peace journalism can lay bare the ground where seeds of insurgency thrive: injustice, deprivation and poverty, and the glaring inequalities that burden Philippine society.

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