Stymied peace talks, attack on CASER prolong misery

in Mainstream
Ava Sumera

Over the years, the militarists and peace spoilers have persistently attempted to stall, disrupt, or totally stop the GRP-NDFP peace talks. They kept on insinuating the primacy of first tying down the NDFP to a long-term ceasefire over holding rigorous negotiations — as a repeatedly reaffirmed commitment by the two parties — towards forging comprehensive agreements on social, economic and political reforms that address the root causes of the armed conflict and pave the way for a just and lasting peace.

After President Duterte formally terminated the peace talks through a presidential proclamation in November 2017 (deviating from the formally agreed on procedure), he and the militarists-peace spoilers announced their scheme for “localized peace engagements” through Executive Order No. 70.

A year later, following their assessment of the “accomplishments” of EO 70, through its National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the militarists-peace spoilers were stunned when Duterte announced he wanted to resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations that he presumably ended over two years ago.

In early January, as the public awaited Duterte’s official announcement on the resumption of formal peace negotiations – which could lead to the signing of two common-draft agreements on agrarian reforms and rural development (ARRD) and national industrialization and economic development (NIED), among other draft accords, the militarists once again tried to jettison the talks.

Two former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chiefs of staff —National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.—warned against resuming the peace talks and disparaged the Filipino people’s aspirations for real social and economic reforms.

Taking swipes at the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)—the meat of the peace talks on the table when Duterte shelved the negotiations first in November 2017, again in July 2018—the Esperon-Galvez tandem gave out gross misinformation, chief of which is that, according to them, the nation doesn’t need those social and economic reforms.

Having spent decades of military careers bloodily but fruitlessly trying to force on the people their illusionary views, these hawks lividly protested that the civilian part of the government they serve has been kept in the dark in the drafting of the CASER by “secret backchannel maneuver of the communist insurgents [Galvez’s words].”

In a rebuttal statement, Julieta de Lima, head of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (NDFP RWC-SER), said the duo’s swipes against the peace talks “maliciously distort(ed) the considerable progress the GRP and the NDFP made on the CASER between August 2016 to November 2017.” De Lima, in fact, praised the open-mindedness and commitment of the negotiating parties to “set aside ideological differences and unite on concrete steps for the common cause of real economic progress for the nation.”

As for Galvez’s charge of “secret backchannel maneuver,” De Lima pointed out that “the substantive content of these common drafts were widely taken up by the NDFP not just in guerilla zones but in sectoral consultations nationwide.” The GRP panel, she added, can also confirm “its numerous multi-agency meetings on the CASER and the wide participation of various line agencies… local government officials, Congress and the academe in the formal rounds abroad as well as the bilateral team meetings in the Philippines.”

De Lima said it’s understandable the two retired generals would prevent the talks or the CASER from being more widely known. “The NDFP’s draft CASER clearly and emphatically shows what the revolutionary forces are fighting for—an economy that genuinely serves the people instead of just foreign and domestic elites.”

From the statements of the militarists, they endorse and find nothing wrong with a few domestic and foreign elites plundering the nation’s human and natural resources.

Truth is, the AFP which each of them once headed has functioned as “investment defense forces” by enabling a few domestic elites and foreign interests to grab vast tracts of land and plunder the resources of Philippine seas, mountains, and forests to the detriment of the Filipino people. The same troops enable the sustained pursuit by successive governments of the neoliberal economic programs which Esperon and Galvez championed in their diatribes to block the resumption of negotiations on CASER.

In attacking the draft CASER, Esperon and Galvez are again trying to sabotage the peace process and the unprecedented progress toward drafting an Interim Peace Agreement (IPA).

Peace spoilers want to hide CASER’s embodied longed-for-Change

CASER is critically important to the Filipino people because it addresses the social and economic roots of the armed conflict. “It fearlessly confronts the self-serving economic interests that keep Filipinos poor and the economy backward,” the NDFP RWC-SER said.

The peace spoilers led by Esperion and Galvez do not want these interests confronted. And to justify their opposition they are airing obsolete, ill-informed assumptions.

Their key pitch is the embrace of the so-called free market and the supposed growth and development happening in the Philippines. They ignore the fact that majority of Filipinos remain poor, that industries are stunted and the backward agriculture reels from years of neglect and is further being pushed down by neoliberal reforms.

The militarists and peace spoilers “still mistakenly think that economies have overcome underdevelopment because of free market policies,” when the world economy today contends with globalization-induced stagnation, growing protectionism, and trade wars, the NDFP RWC-SER said.

Esperon and Galvez dueted in defending the interests of foreign monopoly capitalists, big compradors and bureaucrat capitalists, claiming that CASER confiscates and expropriates their assets.

While acknowledging that the NDFP is indeed determined to dismantle the structures of economic power that keep the economy back, “there is no such provision in any of the common CASER drafts reached by the NDFP and GRP that are up for approval by the negotiationg panels,” the NDFP RWC-SER said.

That Esperon and Galvez vilify the CASER only displays their ignorance of the situation in the peace negotiations. That they have to vilify this provision, whether or not it is in the common draft, displays where their loyalties lie. They are living off the taxes paid by Filipinos, but they are masterminding dirty campaigns and wars in aid of what are actually the real enemies hindering development for the Filipino people.

Even a supposed provision on the “demobilization and standing down of AFP”, against which Esperon and Galvez fumed, is nowhere to be found in the common CASER drafts.

The two ex-military chiefs spent all of 2019 implementing their “whole-of-nation” approach aimed at crushing the revolutionaries and democratic opposition. This is their euphemism for what amounts to a civil-military junta. They launched bloody “Tokhang”-style (drug war) witchhunts victimizing peasants, lawyers, activists, students and mostly civilians opposed to various forms of imperialist plunder in the country. They launched artillery shelling and air bombing raids on civilian communities they believed to be benefiting from the CPP-NPA-NDF-led land reform program. They paraded faked or forced surrenderers.

Yet, Esperon and Galvez try hard to make it appear that the AFP is the people’s army, and not the NPA.

Before Duterte scuttled the peace negotiations in 2018, a draft Interim Peace Agreement (IPA) had been crafted and initialed by both negotiating panels. Signing of the IPA would have been a breakthrough deal guaranteed to improve Filipino lives. Consequently it would also have given credit to President Duterte. Yet Esperon and Galvez are spreading lies and baseless paranoia about the IPA and the CASER in hopes they could scuttle the talks for the nth time.

Esperon, Galvez and their militarist ilk have served in the AFP until their retirement trying but failing to subdue the Filipino revolutionaries. Absence of thoroughgoing social and economic reforms gives rise to more fighting revolutionaries. And the AFP’s militarist solution — from one “oplan” to another recycled or “enhanced oplan” — continues to shed Filipino blood and fails to bring about peace.

From December 2018 till now, the militarists/hawks have rampaged in the country more aggressively through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). They tried to ram martial law down the civilian government’s throat. They tried to gag the media and vilify the revolutionaries and activists as “terrorists.”

Failing to stop the revolutionaries and activists, there were times they simply faked their reports on their “accomplishments”. Their endgame is to clamp down on protests against Malacañang’s allowing foreign military basing (by China in the West Philippine Sea and the US inside Philippine bases); destructive expansion of mining and plantations; “build build build” projects dislocating the people and taking away their livelihood; neoliberal globalization policies destroying our fishery, agriculture and prospects for industrialization; and massive corruption, among other ills that make life difficult for ordinary Filipinos.

Given the military and Duterte’s repeated failure to achieve their target of crushing the communist “insurgency,” it could not have escaped their attention that their “whole-of-nation” approach has failed both under Duterte’s predecessors and under his watch. On the contrary, they have infuriated more and more people, prompting the latter to hike their support for the national democratic revolution.

In just a year of faking victories in their dirty war and lying left and right, the militarists-peace spoilers’ credibility is now shot. What’s left of it in 2019 is shattered further by the photoshopped picture of fake surrenderers supposedly “in droves” among members of the NPA.

In 2019 the militarists have also been exposed time and again for faking or forcing the cooperation of local governments and civilian bureaucracies in their bloody war against the people. They have faked encounters with the NPA to cover up the fact that the revolutionaries are gaining in strength. They have faked the surrender of supposed rebels, faked a supposed success in ‘counterinsurgency’. Their vaunted “victories” included a shameful rub-out of sleeping rebels; an abduction, torture and killing of an hors d’ combat; manipulation of funds and services meant for victims of typhoons.

People’s resistance, CASER key to solving poverty

It is precisely the Philippine government’s policies for plunder that have been driving the dispossessed, marginalized, and threatened people to question and resist such policies, to rebel and ultimately, to build their own government. In pursuit and defense of their economic and social rights the people have every right to rebel.

History shows that one becoming a rebel, critic, or activist, is the result — not the cause — of poverty and injustice. Since the militarists thus far have succeeded in halting the peace talks and the crafting of solutions to address its causes, the Philippine government has intensified its all-out war not only against the armed revolutionary forces. They now seek to deceive, threaten and subdue entire civilian communities and to demolish all legal, democratic people’s organizations working for substantive social reforms and defending human rights, simply on the presumption or suspicion these are supporting the armed revolutionary movement.

“Unprecedented levels of joblessness, landlessness, homelessness, low productivity, and poverty are disguised by misleading official statistics. Oligarch wealth and a narrow upper middle class divert from how the overwhelming majority of Filipinos struggle with low incomes, irregular work and decrepit social services. The CASER that the NDFP and GRP are negotiating seeks to resolve all these and more,” NDFP RWC-SER explained.

CASER is an agreement for development which, beyond merely contributing to ending the armed conflict, will deliver immediate and concrete benefits and lay the basis for the country’s long-term development under conditions of national independence, democracy and just peace. Hardly any part the common CASER drafts already initialed by the NDFP and GRP negotiators and up for approval — should the peace talks resume — warranted the complaints aired against it by peace spoilers Esperon or Galvez.

Among others already expounded on here, these peace spoilers wrongly claimed the draft CASER supposedly takes away the Indigenous People’s (IP) participation. Far from that, the NDFP in fact has proposed a new law upholding stronger IP rights.

Resuming the peace talks could help in halting the tragic bleeding dry of Philippine coffers and of the people. It is not for the revolutionaries but for the Duterte government, especially its militarists and hawks, to prove their sincerity. They were the party who terminated the talks just when it was on the verge of formalizing the most substantive agreements that would give vast benefits to tens of millions of Filipinos and the cause of national development.

Had the CPP and GRP panels succeeded, in 2018, in signing the IPA it would have included an agreement on a coordinated unilateral ceasefire, an amnesty proclamation for freeing political prisoners, and, most of all, agreements on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED). These are the two most crucial sections of the CASER.

At stake on the peace negotiating table is not whether the CPP-NPA-NDF wins or the GRP-AFP loses, but whether the Filipino people can finally begin to benefit from mutually-agreed on meaningful and substantial socio-economic and political/constitutional reforms.

The CASER’s final content will still depend on the result of the peace negotiations, whenever they will be resumed and assidously pursued to completion.

The NDFP is certain the eventual CASER will prioritize the Filipino people, national development, social justice, and just peace.###

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