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National unity vs Maute


by Tonyo Cruz

Over the weekend, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) issued statements that point to a “modus vivendi” on the issue of terrorism.

The expressions of unity and cooperation by the Communists and the government embolden and give hope to those who support the talks as a way of resolving the root causes of the armed conflict.

Signed by chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili, the NDFP statement dated June 17, 2017, said that it “stand(s) firmly with (GRP) in opposing and fighting terrorism, terrorist groups and acts of terrorism.”

“As a matter of fundamental principle and constant policy, we condemn and combat terrorism. By terrorism, we mean actions that intimidate, terrorize, harm, and murder civilians solely or mainly and in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NDFP statement said.

“We condemn and are resolved and determined to counteract the Maute, Abu Sayyaf, and Ansar Al Khilafah Philippines (AKP) groups which are wreaking havoc in Marawi City. These are terrorist groups linked to local reactionary forces, affiliated with ISIS and supported by US-CIA and other foreign entities,” it explained.

According to the NDFP, it has told NDFP member-organization Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization (MRLO) inside Marawi City “to assume home defense tasks against the Maute, Abu Sayyaf and AKP groups.”

“The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has also directed units of the New People’s Army (NPA) close to Marawi City to redeploy for the purpose of mopping up, holding, and blocking operations, if necessary,” said the NDFP.

“For all forces to be able to concentrate against Maute, Abu Sayyaf, and AKP groups, the NDFP has recommended to the CPP to order all other NPA units in Mindanao to refrain from carrying out offensive operations against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), provided that the GRP order the AFP and PNP likewise to refrain from carrying out offensive operations against the NPA and people’s militia. The rights and interests of the masses and communities must be respected and promoted,” said the statement.

The NDFP likewise said it is “ready to discuss and agree in detail with the GRP on how ceasefire, coordination and cooperation can be achieved in Marawi City by both forces unilaterally keeping safe distances between each other.”

The following day, the government’s chief negotiator Sylvestre Bello III welcomed and reciprocated the NDFP statement.

Bello said the GRP “appreciates the NDF’s commitment in their declaration to refrain from undertaking offensive operations in Mindanao.”

“These voluntary gestures and expressions from the NDF in solidarity with government against acts of terrorism augur well for the desired continuation of the stalled fifth round of peace talks as they provide, if sustained, the needed enabling environment favorable to moving the peace negotiations forward,” he added, referring to the most recent round of talks which his panel refused to fully participate in, despite their presence at the venue.

“The Philippine government hereby correspondingly reciprocates with the same declaration of not undertaking offensive operations against the New People’s Army to pave way for the eventual signing of a mutually agreed bilateral ceasefire agreement and agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces towards a just and lasting peace,” said Bello.

In their statements that bode well for the next round of talks, the NDFP and the GRP separately reaffirmed the “mutually acceptable principles” contained in the Hague Joint Declaration: national sovereignty, democracy and social justice.

For its part, the GRP also reaffirmed the full effect of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which aims to protect all participants in the peace process.

What these all mean for ordinary folk is that the talks could still proceed, if both parties would really want to do so. They may agree on more matters, and focus less on those which split them apart — if only for the moment. The next agenda would be to hammer out the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. We would benefit if both parties would agree on how to proceed with land reform, national industrialization, progressive taxation, comprehensive social services, the protection of the environment, and other issues.

The peace talks could help us immediately achieve an epic achievement. President Duterte has already forged some sort of an alliance with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front in fighting the terrorists. The NDFP and GRP statements point to the possibility and prospect of expanding that alliance.

A national counter-terrorist alliance involving the government forces, MILF, MNLF and the CPP-NPA-NDF would be a historic national triumph. Taken together, they know the terrain and people of Marawi and Mindanao — and they could collaborate and cooperate towards ridding the areas of the Maute, Abu Sayyaf and AKP. At the same time, such a national alliance would negate any need for both martial law and foreign intervention.

Our history favors national alliances: In the fight against the Japanese imperial army, a united front helped build a guerrilla army that would eventually push back and nearly wipe out the invaders. Decades later, the communists, the Bangsamoro and the political opposition entered into an informal alliance that challenged, loosened and later broke the grip of the Marcos dictatorship. In both instances, a foreign power was either the enemy or the backer of the enemy.

Now, can we achieve such a national unity to finally and immediately liberate Marawi? The answer rests on President Duterte and the leaders of the communist and Bangsamoro revolutionary movements.

The statements this weekend could be the prelude to such a unity.

Follow me on Twitter @tonyocruz

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