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NPA misplays Duterte, loses chance for peace

IF communist rebels in the Philippines actually wanted peace, their best chance of realizing it is now with the incumbent government. But after years of reaching out and with only a year left in his term, President Rodrigo Duterte has grown exasperated with the Left, and we fear the prospects of a negotiated peace may never materialize.

That assessment is admittedly disappointing, given the optimism felt when Mr. Duterte was just assembling his government. He appointed several former rebels to his Cabinet, apparently as a gesture of peace. The President's inner circle also included a former rebel, Leoncio Evasco, who served as his campaign manager and later, Cabinet secretary.

Even Jose Maria Sison, leader of the Communist Party and its military wing, the New People's Army (NPA), had said in 2016 he might end his exile during President Duterte's tenure. Mr. Sison fled to the Netherlands in 1987 when peace talks with the government then failed. He has been there since.

The two men also have a personal connection. Mr. Sison was the President's former professor in the 1960s. And when he was mayor of Davao City, Mr. Duterte was believed to have a working relationship with the NPAs operating around his hometown.

Fast forward to June 10, 2021. President Duterte announced in a televised interview that the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) were dead. Peace talks with the CPP-NPA had been on and off since 1986.

In that interview, the President said the CPP-NPA was demanding too much and that they were arrogant. That statement was unsurprising however. On November 2020, he signed Proclamation 360 that formally scuttled the peace negotiations after the rebels ignored pleas to stop attacking the military and police.

Afterwards, the President signed Proclamation 374 that branded the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group. Earlier, it had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department and as a terrorist group by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Stop the violence

That terror tag is justified. Just recently, for instance, Keith Absalon and his cousin Nolven were killed by a landmine as they were biking in Masbate City. The 20-year-old Keith played football for the Far Eastern University. An autopsy revealed he and his 40-year-old cousin were also shot - Keith near his eye and Nolven in the shoulder and thigh.

The CPP-NPA claimed responsibility. It issued an apology, citing "errors in military action mounted by an NPA unit," and offered an indemnity. Both were rejected by the victims' family.

The rejection is understandable. Sorry doesn't cut it as Keith's mother told the media. If justice is to be served, the perpetrators, meaning both the rebels and their leader in exile Mr. Sison must be prosecuted in a court of law.

Local and international human rights laws and other conventions prohibit the use as well as the production, distribution and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines. Note that over the decades, the rebellion has claimed some 30,000 lives, including civilians.

This has to stop - now.

The rebel group has lost most of its followers already. Their communist ideology had collapsed decades ago. And most of the rebels remaining behave more like bandits and extortionists.

Also, their sympathizers have repeatedly demonstrated Leftist candidates and their parties can be elected to public office and participate in our political system. And until recently, we had a President who was open to appointing their former comrades to some of the highest offices of the Republic.

Still, the CPP-NPA was insatiable. The only cause that they are fighting for now is the overthrow of a legitimately elected government. They claim to be for the people, but they are obviously out of touch with public sentiments.

Last month, 84 percent of local governments reported adopting resolutions proclaiming the NPA as "persona non grata." Even if government critics doubt that report, they cannot dispute the fact Filipinos want an end to violence and terrorism.

The CPP-NPA wants something else. No wonder the President and the rest of the country feel frustrated.


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