By Ellson Quismorio and Philippine News Agency
This Christmas, congressmen belonging to the militant Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives wish that the Philippine government resumes peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
But Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte thinks otherwise, cautioning the government against reopening talks with communist rebels after a string of deadly attacks believed to have been perpetrated by the NewPpeople’s Army (NPA).
Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate, of the Makabayan Bloc, however, said going back to the negotiating table with communist rebels is ultimately beneficial to the entire nation.
“Bilang mga peace advocates, kami ay nananawagan na sana ay matuloy na ito hindi lang (As peace advocates, we appeal for the continuation of the talks not only) in the spirit of the celebration this December but for the benefit of our people,” said Zarate, a House Senior Deputy Minority Leader.
The NDFP is the negotiating arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has engaged the Philippine government in a bloody armed conflict for over 50 years. The NPA is the CPP’s military arm.
“Sana ang resumption ng usapang pangkayapaang ito (I hope the resumption of these peace talks) would be conducted without precondition for both parties, especially from the government. Ang gobyerno naman ang nagkansela nito noong nakaraang taon (It was the government who cancelled it last year, anyway),” Zarate said.
Exclude Davao City – Sara
But in a statement on Monday, Mayor Sara asked the national government to exclude Davao City from the Christmas truce, which began on December 23 and would last until January 7 next year.
“We respectfully caution the Duterte administration over its move to reopen the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP),” she said, warning the government of the “evil character and duplicitous nature” of the communist rebel movement.
“While the declaration of (the) Christmas truce and the prospects to reopen formal peace negotiations are acts of goodwill on the part of the Duterte government, demonstrating its strong political will to resolve the insurgency problem plaguing some parts of the country for the past years, we must be always reminded by the evil character and duplicitous nature of (the) NDFP and its revolutionary organization, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and its armed wing, the New People’s Army,” Mayor Sara added.
Spoilers of peace
Mayor Sara noted that previous deadly attacks carried out by the NPA had effectively scuttled the prospects for peace negotiations.
“Why the past peace negotiations sorely failed could only be blamed on the countless criminal acts and treachery of (the) NDFP-CPP-NPA – displayed even during times when ceasefires were supposed to be in place,” she said.
Sara described such attacks as “spoilers of peace,” saying that “the Christmas truce will be used by the terrorist groups as an opportunity to regain communities previously cleared of their presence, consolidate their forces, and derail the progress of existing government rural development projects.”
If at all, she said, the truce, “however commendable,” has only proven to be “useless and deleterious to the accomplishments of our local peace initiative, the Peace 911.”
Peace 911 is a comprehensive peace-building program of the Davao City government for conflict-affected areas of the city. It is primarily focused on Paquibato District and Barangay Dominga in Calinan District, areas identified as NPA strongholds.
From June to December this year, the program had successfully sprung Paquibato District and Barangay Dominga from the shackles of the NPA terrorists. Paquibato is dominated by Ata-Manobo natives.
Mayor Sara noted that the civilian-led peace group has opened roads and bridges, health centers, and schools. It also capacitated Indigenous Peoples IPs) by introducing Peace Economy, which helped farmers receive proper literacy in farming and marketing, linking them directly to buyers.
“For the first time in many years, people were given access to government agencies and non-government organizations that could help in the development of their communities – the Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Trade and Industry, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of Social Work and Development,” she said.
She also said an increasing number of NPA members and their supporters have been turning themselves in to the government through the program.
“To be covered by the ceasefire or the peace negotiations will only disrupt and threaten the gains of our process of peace and development in these communities formerly controlled by the terrorists,” she said.
She also described the CPP-NPA-NDFP as “terrorist organizations” to whom “sincerity is a strange word.”
“To believe that they desire a peaceful end to the insurgency problem would be playing ignorant of their bloody habit – how they slaughtered countless civilians in the past and made many countryside communities suffer from poverty and underdevelopment, and blaming the government for it,” Mayor Sara said. “These and more are the reasons these groups are called terrorists. And we should never negotiate with terrorists.”