Much as we share in the administration’s new hopes for a resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its New People’s Army (NPA), we have to face the harsh realities of the present.
The President has been able to make peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by granting them a Bangsamoro autonomous region, one of several such regions possible in a federal system of government. He has thus pushed for approval by Congress of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill, to be followed later by a new Constitution providing for several federal states. That will satisfy the demands of the Moro people’s leaders.
But the CPP’s demands cannot be similarly met by a federal system of government. It seeks basic changes in the national government – economic, social, legal, political. Some of these changes were agreed upon in the series of meetings these last few months. But final agreement eluded the negotiators.
Last November, 2017, when talks broke down the last time, President Duterte said he had decided he could no longer talk peace with the Communists, as they “sounded like they wanted a coalition government.” He said: “I cannot give you what I do not own. And certainly a coalition government with the Republic of the Philippines is pure nonsense.”
The CPP came about in 1968 at a time in world history when Communism was sweeping the world, and its leaders succeeded in taking over Russia, China, and other nations. Russia’s Communists have since lost that country with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, while China has developed its own kind of market economy.
But the Communist Party of the Philippines and its NPA have survived to this day, fighting the government in Mindanao and other parts of the country. They have kept alive their cause all these decades. They want some very basic changes in Philippine government, perhaps through some kind of “coalition government” which President Duterte rejected last November.
But now the President has reopened the door to a continuation of the talks. The chief government negotiator, Secretary of Labor Silvestre Bello III, is now proceeding to the Netherlands for back-channel talks. Hopefully, he said, an interim peace agreement can be forged, that could pave the way to a final agreement later.
We share Bello’s hopes for an interim agreement and the possibility that it can be forged within the two months set by President Duterte for the new talks. As for a final agreement, however, neither side has shown any inclination to back down from the positions they last held in November.
Still we continue to hope that peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army will somehow be achieved – perhaps without the change in government structure which President Duterte rejected last November, but with the substance of basic reform and truly good governance.