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THE TYRANT DENIES THE PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO JUST AND LASTING PEACE

in Countercurrent

 

by Leon Castro

Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) President Rodrigo Duterte announced last August 14 that he has terminated the peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). It came weeks after he, his spokesperson, and his peace adviser separately declared again suspending the peace negotiations. There was a need, the GRP said, to review the achievements of the GRP-NDFP peace talks, including all agreements between both parties since 1992 when The Hagu e Joint Declaration was signed.

“I have terminated the talks with the Reds—with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), with Sison—because in the series of agreements before, even [during] the time of [GRP President Benigno] Aquino, they entered into so many things that they scattered the privileges and power which they wanted,” Duterte said in his usual rambling way. We summed it all and it would really appear that it was a coalition government [they wanted] and I said, “I cannot give you an inch of that even. I cannot give you what is not mine,” Duterte added.

Duterte went on to declare yet again that his government would instead resume the fight against the revolutionary movement. “We have suffered and—in numbers. And I think it would not be good [to continue with the peace process]. We will just have to continue fighting,” he added.

Duterte’s latest announcement of the termination of the peace process is actually nonnews, NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison said. Sison explained it was not the first time Duterte terminated the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. The first time was actually in February 2017, as he again did on November 2017 with his Proclamation 360 that he followed with Proclamation 374 accusing the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist” organizations. Sison said Duterte’s proclamations had the malicious intent of making doubly sure that he had killed the peace negotiations.

Either Duterte was lying or ignorant of what he was saying. There had only been one formal round of talks throughout the Aquino regime and the agreements signed in The Oslo Joint Statement of February 2011 the reactionary government tried to abrogate with full malevolent intent. In addition, Prof. Sison had repeatedly denied the NDFP asked or wanted a coalition government with Duterte’s own murderous regime.

But beyond Duterte’s unfounded accusations that the NPA—and not his bloodthirsty military and police—is on a rampage in both rural and urban areas, the question of why is he bent on throwing away the substantial gains achieved by the peace negotiations with the NDFP begs to be asked. If he claims his regime is suffering from the attacks by the NPA, why would he think that to continue fighting with the revolutionary army is the best and only solution? If he still claims he is for peace and development, why can he not admit that agrarian reform and national industrialization—prospective agreements of which are already submitted to him by his own peace negotiators for approval—are tangible efforts to addressing the roots of the armed conflict?

TYRANT AND DICTATOR

GRP President Duterte has completely unmasked himself and his regime as a tyrant and dictator in the mold of Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Duterte made a complete turnaround from proclaiming himself as the country’s first “leftist” president to being the chief executive of a cabal that rules through terror, tyranny, and corruption. His Senate is presided by, like him, a misogynist. His Speaker of the House of Representatives—manouvered into place by his daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte—is herself a tyrant, cheat, plunderer and human rights violator of the worst kind. He has replaced the Supreme Court Chief Justice with one who has voted to bury Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Members of his own personal and official families are involved in smuggling, graft and corruption, and influence-peddling. They have lifestyles that could rival Imelda Marcos’s. Recently, investigative reports have shown that Christopher “Bong” Go has profited billions in government contracts as his most trusted assistant and operator.

The number of extrajudicial killing victims of Duterte’s drug war, mostly poor, has breached 20,000. The reign of terror remains unabated despite increasing opposition and condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Despite all these deaths, Duterte’s so-called war has only succeeded in allowing tons of illegal drugs into the country while bigtime drug lords, including presidential son and Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, remain at large or are being exonerated publicly by no less that Duterte himself.

Like his idols Marcos and Arroyo, Duterte is succeeding in running the country’s economy to the ground. From the get-go, Duterte’s anti-people Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) measure caused inflation rates that overtook so-called growth rates and hit 6.4 percent last August. While the Philippine Peso lingers at around P53 to P54 to the US dollar, hot money from the speculative market is leaving the country, making the Philippines one of the worst performing economies in the world. The country’s foreign debt has also increased dramatically under Duterte and has gone beyond P7 trillion. As a result of all these, oil prices and prices of basic commodities have drastically gone up and continued to do so, angering more and more Filipinos. Duterte’s approval rating has also consistently taken a dive since the start of the year, one that could no longer be fixed by his totally discredited propaganda machine.

Meanwhile, poverty alleviation measures promised by Duterte the presidential candidate and Duterte the newly-installed president were exposed to be nothing but hot air and lies. Labor contractualization remains the main mode of employment for workers while genuine agrarian reform is still a dream under his regime.

But are these developments really surprising, more so that no one among the NDFP-nominated progressives remained in Duterte’s Cabinet while the most reactionary disciples of neo-liberalization are still well-entrenched? Barely a year after progressives were rejected by the Commission on Appointments, corrupt practices have returned with a vengeance at the Department of Social Work and Development at the behest of corrupt politicians across the street at the House of Representatives. At the Department of Agrarian Reform, more and more agricultural lands are being handed to landlords and land grabbers. And more than a year after the National Anti-Poverty Commission has published a progressive anti-poverty roadmap, not a single recommendation is being implemented.

In the absence of honest to goodness pro-people policies and programs by the Duterte government, the NDFP-GRP peace process was among the very few avenues for genuine social change. Alas, Duterte is determined to deny the people their right to just and lasting peace.

NATIONAL INDUSTRIALIZATION AND AGRARIAN REFORM

Last June 16, the NDFP released backchannel documents it crafted with the GRP Negotiating Panel. The documents represented weeks of hard work not just by the NDFP and its consultants and resource persons but the GRP Negotiating Panel, advisers and staff, not to mention the Third Party Facilitator, The Royal Norwegian Government. These consisted of The Stand-Down Agreement; Guidelines and Procedures towards an Interim Peace Agreement, and the Resumption of Talks, with an attached timetable; The Initialled Interim Peace Agreement; and, The NDFP Proposed Draft of the Amnesty Proclamation, which was given to the GRP and the Third Party Facilitator. These documents were all ready for approval by both panels on the fifth round of formal talks last June 28. Four rounds of informal talks throughout April to June 2018 preceded the scheduled formal in June.

The “Stand Down Agreement”—a temporary cessation of hostilities—between the NDFP and the GRP, was in fact signed and approved by the chairpersons of the negotiating panels and witnessed by the Third Party Facilitator. It was due for announcement and implementation on June 21, a week before the formal talks.

The GRP-NDFP peace negotiation has been postponed, canceled, and terminated by Duterte several times. Duterte thinks nothing of the hard work by everyone involved in crafting agreements already hailed as real solutions to the worst evils of Philippine society: poverty, corruption, and subservience to foreign interests. Instead of signing the initialed drafts of agrarian reform and rural development, as well as national industrialization and economic development agreements, he listened to militarists in his regime—especially defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, and interior and local government and interior secretary Eduardo Año—who were all bred during the last years of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and wantonly let loose upon the people during Gloria Arroyo’s own reign of terror. With bloodthirsty officials like these three as his most trusted hatchet men, is it surprising that Duterte’s way of addressing the roots of the armed conflict in this country is heightened fascism and terrorism?

The NDFP and all its allied revolutionary organizations, led by the CPP and the NPA, on the other hand, said they condemn how Duterte waylaid the peace process. While they are not intimidated by Duterte’s bluster and threats and are ready to continue defending the Filipino people, they have expressed willingness to resume peace negotiations with any reactionary government serious in negotiating basic reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict. The NDFP said it is hopeful that a genuine peace negotiation shall contribute to the liberation of the Filipino people from the bondage of poverty, neglect and plunder by foreign and local ruling elite.

Perhaps Duterte is not ready to admit the NDFP’s seriousness and sincerity in negotiating peace. Perhaps he was surprised when he was shown by his own negotiating panel that the NDFP has initialed national industrialization and economic development as well as agrarian reform and rural development draft agreements. Perhaps he himself was not ready to implement peace even when the NDFP publicly announced it is ready to sign a stand down agreement between the NPA and the AFP and PNP, even an interim peace agreement deal. Perhaps Duterte was not really sincere when he promised he would release all political prisoners. Whatever the case may be, his repeated pronouncements to terminate the negotiations defy logic if he really wanted peace.

The question begs to be asked and asked loudly, “Why is Duterte afraid of peace?”

But, then again, is peace possible with a tyrant?

Mindlessly Mishandling the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

in Mainstream
by Leon Castro

Like a poker game that he plays all by himself, whimsically rigging the rules, is how Rodrigo R. Duterte now apparently treats the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He has mindlessly cast aside all the hard work that both his government’s negotiating panel and that of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have painstakingly undertaken.

Twice did Duterte arbitrarily cancel the fifth round of formal negotiations, in May and August 2017. But in both instances (as he had done earlier) he subsequently resorted to back-channel talks and agreed to continue the negotiations.

Up till the last minute, all looked rosy for the peace talks. In two discreet back-channel discussions in October and early November—to which Duterte had given explicit go-signal—the GRP and NDFP panels worked furiously to hammer out three draft documents. They had agreed, at the minimum, to refine and initial the documents at the fifth round and, at the maximum, to finalize and sign them at the sixth round in early 2018. The heads and members of both panels were already in Oslo, Norway, when Duterte’s order to cancel the talks came.

The three draft documents were: a draft agreement on agrarian reform and rural development and on national industrialization and economic development (the prime aspects of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER); a draft Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefire Agreement; and a draft General Amnesty for political prisoners.

Had the fifth round of formal negotiations proceeded and achieved its set objectives, 2017 would have ended with high hopes for continuing peace negotiations. And the Duterte government would have looked good in the eyes of the Filipino people.

Hundreds of hours of meetings cum negotiations by the Reciprocal Working Committees for Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) went into the drafting of the first document, which could have accelerated the entire peace process towards addressing the root causes of the nearly 50 years of armed conflict and attaining just and lasting peace in the country.

Common agrarian reform and national industrialization drafts

Over seven months of peace talks with four formal rounds of negotiations, the NDFP and the GRP panels were able to forge ahead in crafting common drafts for agrarian reform and rural development and for national industrialization and economic development. They held bilateral meetings during the second, third and fourth rounds—in Oslo, Norway (October 7-8, 2016); Rome, Italy (January 22-24, 2017); and Nordwijk an Zee, The Netherlands (April 4-5, 2017), respectively. In addition, there were no less than 10 bilateral meetings in the Philippines and abroad by the NDFP and GRP RWCs-SER between April 25 and November 17 last year.

On agrarian reform and national industrialization, there were nine sections in the common draft signed in Manila by the RWCs last November 20 and witnessed by the Royal Norwegian Government third party facilitator. These are:

Free distribution of land to tillers, farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolks and writing off of the arrears in amortization payments by earlier land reform beneficiaries;

The agreement includes coverage of plantations and large-scale commercial farms with leasehold, joint venture, non-land transfer schemes (e.g. stock distribution option);

  • Immediate and expedited installation of farmer beneficiaries;
  • Implementation of agrarian support services on production, harvest, post-harvest, insurance, credit and free irrigation;
  • Elimination of exploitative lending and trading practices;
  • Fisheries and aquatic resources reforms;
  • National land and water use policy aligned with agrarian reform;
  • Develop rural industries and domestic science and technology; and
  • Building of rural infrastructure, such as irrigation, post-harvest, transport, communication, power facilities.

Signed on the same day, the NDFP and the GRP RWCs common draft on national industrialization listed 10 agreed-on sections, as follows

  1. Use of the term “national industrialization”;
  2. Explicit mention of economic planning;
  3. Development of specific industries, industrial sectors, and industrial projects;
  4. Nationalization of public utilities and mining;
  5. “Filipinization” of minerals processing and trade;
  6. Regulation of foreign investment;
  7. State intervention and regulation;
  8. Creation of workers’ councils;
  9. Breaking foreign monopoly control of industrial technologies; and
  10. Financing through higher taxes on the rich and lower on poor, as well as revenues from gambling, luxury goods, tobacco/alcohol, and tariffs. The parties also agreed to set up an industrial investment fund.

The agrarian reform and rural development and the national industrialization and economic development accords, are parts of the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) Part III, under the title Developing the National Economy. These are mutually acknowledged by the NDFP and the GRP as the most important aspects of the peace negotiations. When finally approved by the principals and implemented, they are expected to alleviate poverty and inequality in the country—addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.

From both sub-agreements, the social and economic reform negotiations are expected to move on to the next issues, which are environmental protection, rehabilitation and compensation. The other parts of the CASER agenda include the following:

Part IV. Upholding people’s rights 
A. Rights of the working people
B. Promoting patriotic, progressive and pro-people culture
C. Recognition of ancestral lands and territories of national minorities

Part V. Economic sovereignty for national development 
A. Foreign economic & trade relations
B. Financial, monetary & fiscal policies
C. Social & economic planning

Part VI. Overall implementing mechanism

Part VII. Final provisions

Negotiations on the above issues are expected to be easier and faster, compared with those on agrarian reform and national industrialization which are deemed to be the hardest part of the entire negotiations.

Volatile GRP president

Apparently, all it took for Duterte to mindlessly cast aside these great achievements of the negotiations was his seeing on television militant activists protesting US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Philippines for the Asean summit last November. Were imagined personal slights arising from such protest action against one he probably considered a soul mate, more important to him than assiduously working to achieve peace?

Not long after seeing ASEAN protest videos on television, Duterte ordered his negotiators to cancel “all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDFP.” Subsequently, he issued Proclamation 360 (November 23) terminating the GRP-NDFP peace talks. This was followed by Proclamation 374 (December 5) declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as “terrorist organizations” under both the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9373) and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (RA 10168).

Under the law, the proscription of the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations doesn’t instantly take effect. The government needs to first file a petition with a Regional Trial Court to proclaim the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations, which petition will have to undergo hearings before the court can issue a ruling. Yet Duterte’s proclamation and his military minions’ relentless campaign to slander the revolutionary organizations have opened the gates to more human rights violations, as happened in his notorious Oplan Tokhang against suspected drug users and peddlers.

His ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the reactionary government’s intelligence branches to arbitrarily list down suspected officers and members of underground revolutionary organizations and of their alleged aboveground “fronts” can only be interpreted as orders for increased intimidation, abduction, torture and murder of legal democratic activists and other civilians.

In the latter part of 2017, Duterte did these things that expose himself as a fraud and a liar disinterested in peace as well as a tyrant in the exact mold of his idol Ferdinand Marcos.

NDFP determined to fight for just peace

Duterte’s lies and slander against revolutionary organizations, however, failed to gain traction among the Filipino people. The people have become aware of and disgusted over Duterte’s mass murder of suspected drug users and peddlers. More and more have also wisened up to his obvious subservience to capitalist and foreign interests, plunder of the environment, attacks against peasant and national minority communities, and his own family’s connections with underworld groups. And his lies against the revolutionary forces are increasingly being dismissed as hot flashes of a drug-addled mind.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison has remarked that the US-directed Duterte regime is daydreaming that it can discredit and destroy the sovereign revolutionary will of the Filipino people by proscribing the revolutionary forces as terrorist organizations, by requiring them to submit themselves to the sham processes of the reactionary state, and by unleashing gross and systematic crimes of terrorism and human rights violations.

The Filipino people and the revolutionary forces, he said, are determined to fight for national and social liberation, people´s democracy, economic development, cultural progress and just peace.

While the Duterte fascist regime may have terminated the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, Sison pointed out, “it cannot be too sure that it will last long [in power] because the Filipino people and even those in the GRP detest the monstrous crimes of the regime, especially mass murder, corruption and puppetry to the US.” The crisis of the ruling system continues to worsen and the resources of the regime for violence and deception are limited.

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