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Stop fighting first & the talks can resume

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One of the first moves of President Duterte when he assumed office in 2016 was to contact the leader of the  Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)  to propose peace talks.  He was evidently confident  that he and his old mentor at the Lyceum of the Philippines, CCP Founding Chairman Jose Ma. Sison, would be able to find a way to end the 49-year-old rebellion of the CPP’s  military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA).

In the months that followed, considerable progress was made on basic political and economic issues, but the negotiators were never able to agree on a common bilateral ceasefire; each side had its own ceasefire. There were constant  encounters in the field.  On November 11, 2017,  the President said,   the NPA ambushed a police vehicle  in Bukidnon,  and a four-month-old baby girl  in a following vehicle  was killed. He  signed a proclamation  on November 23 terminating the peace talks.

Fighting has resumed since then,  but the government has been able to  convince thousands of NPA members to lay down their arms, with apparently very attractive incentives. Last month, a special envoy from Norway  which is brokering the negotiations  came to see President Duterte. Then last week, 61 members of the House of Representatives, members of various parties, signed  House Resolution  No. 1803 asking the President to resume the stalled peace talks.

It would indeed be a most welcome development if the peace talks can resume, but, as  peace adviser Jesus Dureza pointed out last Sunday, this can happen only if there is “an enabling environment conducive to negotiations.” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana  said the CPP-NPA must show  sincerity by agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire agreement. The talks had broken down last November because the CPP-NPA insisted that the talks could be held even while the fighting continued. “I don’t believe in that,” Lorenzana said. “If we talk, we  should stop fighting first.”

Presidential spokesman Harry  Roque  said the needed “enabling environment”  calls for the rebels  to end their hostilities against civilians and government forces, end their extortion activities, lay down their arms, and return to the fold  of the law.”  This looks like a demand for a total capitulation on the part of the rebels and is not likely to be accepted.  It should be enough that the fighting just stop, as Secretary  Lorenzana  pointed out.

It is now  up to President Duterte to make the final decision on whether to resume the peace talks. He will  want some indication of the rebels’ sincerity. An agreement on a common bilateral ceasefire  would be a good sign.

Then the peace talks can truly resume. This initiative had been among  the first he had taken when he became president in 2016. To end the decade-old rebellion of the NPA, one of the world’s longest running  conflicts, would be a major step forward  for  our country.

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