Peace talks within 60 days?

IN response to continuing calls for the revival of the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA),  President Duterte last weekend called on CPP Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison to return home to the Philippines and resume the peace negotiations within  60  days.

The peace talks had begun right after the start of the President’s administration in 2016, with talks in Oslo, Norway, and Rome, Italy,  but  they broke down last February over the NPA’s  call for the release of detained political prisoners, continued fighting on the ground despite the ongoing peace talks, and the absence of a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

Last Saturday, in response to an appeal made  by some 60 lawmakers represented by the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives,  President  Duterte  called on Sison, who lives in the Netherlands, to return  home to the Philippines and resume the peace talks within 60 days. The  talks should  be held here, he stressed. “I will not go there. We’re fighting for the Philippines, so you come here.”

Despite our continuing hopes for a resumption of the talks and an ultimate peace agreement to end the 49-year-old rebellion, we have to admit  that no talks are likely to be held  under these conditions.  Sison  has lived in the Netherlands since 1986 – 32 years ago – and it is not likely that he feels any safer today than in all the previous years under previous administrations.

Earlier, during the talks in Europe, Sison had stressed that he cannot order the NPA  around as its  commanders  can make decisions based on conditions on the ground. More recently, in his word war with President, Sison  backed down  from his boast that the NPA could kill one soldier a day. “I have always made it clear that I am not in any position to issue any kind of order to the Communist Party of the Philippines and  the New People’s Army,” he said.

The NPA remains a nebulous enemy to the state, vague and indistinct in its organization and intentions. Sison,  founding chairman of the CPP,  could be of great help in  any peace talks but  the government may have to seek out the present  party leadership and  reach out to the ground commanders.

In his latest statement  sent through his Facebook website last Monday, Sison  declared he would return home “when a significant advance in the peace negotiations has been achieved within the framework of the Hague Joint Declaration and when my comrades and lawyers are satisfied with legal and security precautions.”

He obviously has no intention of coming home to resume the peace negotiations. He will return only when  “significant advance” has been achieved, while President Duterte wants him  to come home to  resume the talks. With  such disparate statements, we cannot have much hope that the peace talks will be able to resume in 60 days.