Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 15 February 2017


President Duterte, fresh from his election mandate, announced he would seek peace with communist rebels. With peace established, more economic development would be enabled.

Presidential steps to jumpstart the negotiations. Almost immediately after assuming office, Duterte gave concessions to sweeten the prospects of peace. He showed goodwill to the communists by giving them a voice in the running of the government without their asking for it.

He appointed communist-leaning individuals to Cabinet positions in land reform, labor, social welfare and to anti-poverty agencies.

In addition, the President declared a unilateral ceasefire to the hostilities with government troops. He met with rebel leaders in his office and even broke bread with them. He had direct telephone talks with Jose Ma. Sison, the exiled leader in the Hague, once his professor in college and whom he considered a kindred kind.

Thus, direct meetings of the constituted peace panels from the government and the leaders opened auspiciously in August 2016 in Oslo, Norway. Two other meetings were held, one in Oslo and the other in in Rome. No hard concessions from the rebels were being consummated.

The rebel panel included its exiled leaders and those who were held in captivity who were given safe passage for the purpose of the meetings.

Through the three meetings, the demands prior to real negotiations hardened, The communists had insisted on the release of 400 prisoners be made first before the conduct of substantial negotiations.

Moreover, certain events that happened in the field that led to the killing of government troops even during  a ceasefire was in effect made the President terminate the peace negotiations. It seemed the communists had no control over their men in the field.

Why the government terminated the negotiations. President Duterte explained his action to the nation and to people in Surigao, Mindanao (the site of a deadly earthquake devastation) thus:

“I tried everything,” the President explained. “I walked the extra mile, released prisoners, released their leaders so they can go to Oslo (Norway) to talk, and now they want 400 prisoners who fought the government under a rebellion released. This will (be) only given after a successful talk. What is there to talk about if I would release them?”

A more detailed explanation was provided by the government communications director, Martin Andanar, who writes a column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (“The path to peace,” Feb. 13). I quote from him:

“No previous president yielded so much so quickly just so the peace process could be restarted with an abundance of trust. … Having won an arm, the communists wanted to take a leg. They wanted 400 convicts they prefer to define as ‘political prisoners’ to be unconditionally released.  … Each time the negotiating panels met, it seems the list of demands presented by the communists effectively as preconditions to the continuation of the talks lengthened. This is why President Duterte called them ‘spoiled brats.’”

Five peace parleys with other Philippine presidents have failed. Five Philippine presidents – Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III – have tried to win over the communists to end their rebellion. All these efforts have failed.

Paulyn Sicam, a former member of the Philippine government panel under the Macapagal administration, who now writes an opinion column for The Philippine STAR (her column, July 2, 2016), reviewed her personal experience thus:  “Although the talks (would begin) with a lot of goodwill among friends who had fought against the (Marcos) dictatorship together, it quickly deteriorated into another impasse, on the same issue that the communists have always insisted on – the release of their jailed leaders. As they did with every panel, (they) declared that they would just wait for a more open, friendlier government to resume talks with.”

She concluded thus: “I am convinced that to the communists, the peace process is a one-way street that they are on only to get as many concessions as they can from the government without conceding anything in return….”

Yet, in this particular negotiation, the communists appeared to expect that President Duterte would be more pliant. This time, it was Duterte who called the negotiations off. In addition, he referred to the communists as a terror organization.

Soon after the President made this announcement, the communication sought reconsideration his decision. They obviously see in Duterte their best chance of concluding a peace treaty, with some of their objectives achieved.

There are no more Maoists except in the NPA. In the almost half century of fighting against the government, a lot has changed in this world. But the NPA has remained remarkably the same, with its leaders still immersed in their old ideologies. The rhetoric that they espouse on economic policy is out of tune with the times.

The Philippine communist party is essentially behind the times. There are hardly any more Maoists in the world of development policy. Or rather, the Mao doctrines of development have been superseded by those who led China to the great boom years in its economy, following the reforms of Deng Hsiao-peng.

These policies have much relevance to the changing conditions that we in the Philippines face today. This is most clearly set from the examples of high economic growth of China and Vietnam today, two countries that have been growing at high speed which are still considered communist countries in organization.

But since the late 1970s, the model moved away from the Mao vision of a highly centralized and directed economy. The key elements of successful transformation of today’s China is based on embracing the principles of the market, of competition, and of seeking high employment in industry and commerce. These are also the same patterns of reforms that Vietnam has been following.

Where the Philippines requires to move forward are often the policies that many of NPA’s ideologues want to thwart: strengthen access to foreign capital, liberalize further the investment areas, and strengthen market forces.