A Serious Peace Initiative

THE holiday ceasefire between armed forces of the Government of the Philippines (GOP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), respectively, will start tomorrow, December 16, 2010 until January 3, 2011. This ceasefire, a product of the initial talks in Hongkong, augurs well for the success of the soon-to-be resumed peace talks between the two panels. It also helped that other confidence-building measures by the GOP, such as allowing NDF negotiator  Luis Jalandoni to enter the country and the withdrawal of the charges against the “Morong 43,” were undertaken.

However, a realistic assessment needs to be done beyond the symbolic confidence-building measures. The appointment of human rights lawyers and civil society advocates in the panel showed the seriousness of the government initiative this time around. This must be realized by the CPP which should drop its own tactical framework  and adopt the same serious approach to the peace negotiations. Both sides should persevere in negotiations until a permanent peace is attained.

The fundamental basis of the negotiations should be political. The raison d’etre of the rebellion–the economic, political, social and cultural demands of the CPP and its allied organizations–are in essence–its political party platform.  From their point of view, these are the necessary reforms constituting the national democratic and eventually a socialist makeover of Philippine society.

From the standpoint of the restored Philippine democracy, every political party or organization–or for that matter, everyone–is free to espouse ideas and beliefs. What is anti-democratic and hence cannot be allowed in a democracy is for anybody to prevent an idea or belief to be aired or propagated or force others to agree on one’s own ideas or beliefs. Even the State is constrained from doing this unless the very survival of society and State is at stake. Thus we enshrined in the Philippine constitution, in consonance with internationally-recognized human rights instruments, the various freedoms and rights of citizens in a democratic society.

The downfall of the Marcos dictatorship removed a major barrier to Philippine democracy and substantially weakened the argument for armed revolutionary struggle of the CPP and the NPA. The remaining political question in this regard is the reform of the current political order characterized by continued existence of warlordism and private armed groups, the politicization of the AFP and the police forces, and the various existing obstacles to full enjoyment by the people of the fruits of the restored democracy. The removal of these conditions (or the substantive weakening of these conditions) will enable the strengthening of democracy and render moot and academic the rationale for the armed struggle.

To be sure, these conditions or their solutions are not tied to the peace negotiations between the GOP and the CPP. These are already contained in the various reform agenda of other political forces in the country who are already contesting in the parliamentary arena.

Whether the talks succeed or not, these reforms need to be put in place if we want to leave behind the dynasty-ruled, personalistic politics of “guns, goons, and gold” and establish a modern democracy regime in the country.

The second major context of the resumed peace talks is the fact–admitted openly or privately on both sides–that the CPP armed struggle and the AFP’s counter-insurgency program are both getting nowhere near for either side to claim complete victory over the other.

The CPP and the NPA under its command may maintain their mobile bases in remote areas, evade military operations, or conduct occasional ambuscades or attacks on military posts but cannot by any means develop stable base areas, contend for control of any area, or strike decisive blows on the military’s capability. The GOP and the AFP and police forces under its command, on the other hand, does not have the demonstrated capability to cover all areas of insurgency and hence claim a permanent control of these areas, force the AFP to drastically weaken its capability for external defense in favor of internal counter-insurgency operations (particularly affected are the navy and  the air force–logically strong in an archipelagic state), suspend the delivery of government services and entry of investments into the insurgency areas, and eat up the state resources that should have been used for more productive development endeavors.

However, it is the CPP that is getting the short end of the situation more than the government. As time goes on, its survival mode became more pronounced in direct inverse proportion to the growth of people’s participation in the democratic system. Even the growing influence of political groups identifying with its program but chose to participate in the parliamentary arena is a testimony to the dead-end anachronism that is the primary armed struggle in a democratic society. Worse, it has made the CPP vulnerable to the charge of becoming anti-democratic–a sharp reversal of its heroic role in the anti-dictatorship struggle.

The government–faced with its own dilemma of debilitating internal conflicts and various crises arising from global and domestic factors–needs to unite the people and enhance its own capability to steer the country in the sea of uncertainties arising from these crises.

Seeing the conflict in political terms means overturning the current boxes that both sides hitherto used in sitting down on the peace table. The government, particularly the armed forces, needs to discard its outdated good/evil anticommunist framework of the 50s and 60s. The CPP also needs to discard its messianic, “correct” ideological framework in vogue in the 60s. The world of the 21st century is vastly different from the one 50 years ago. In a sense, we all need to grow up.

It does not mean discarding the ideas or beliefs of those on either side of the fence. What a political settlement in a democratic setting means is that we allow all, including the CPP and the anti-communists, their day in the sun–to argue  their case before the people and get their support. Let them participate in the democratic free and fair elections and give the people a chance to see their wares and buy or reject them. This is the essence of democracy.

It means that there is no need for the current extended, laborious, step-by-step process of negotiations that basically advantaged those who are looking at these as tactical maneuvers within irreconcilable frameworks of a total CPP victory, on one hand, or the total eradication of communism, on the other hand. If the two sides sincerely chose to end the fighting, both can agree on a political settlement, based on the reform and strengthening of democracy, and unfettered participation of the CPP in our political processes.

Let democracy–or more accurately–the people ultimately decide the fate of the CPP position. All should serve the people, let the wounds or war heal, and let us unite the family that is the Filipino people. Mon Casiple

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