Visit our new website: worldnews.easybranches.com

What has Derailed Peace Talks with the Philippines’ Communist Rebels?

  • Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:16

WHEN Rodrigo Duterte was elected as president of the Philippines in May 2016, hopes were raised for a negotiated end to one of Asia’s longest-running Maoist insurgencies.

On the campaign trail, Duterte had vowed, if elected, to enter into ‘inclusive talks’ with rebels from the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the once-outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Peace talks did indeed begin in Norway last August, and got off to a positive start with both sides declaring separate ceasefires and agreeing to further rounds of dialogue, which took place in Oslo in October and Rome in January. At the turn of the year, it appeared steady progress was being made.

Yet the peace process crashed to an abrupt halt in early February after a series of armed clashes led both parties to declare their separate ceasefires at an end.

Talks were briefly revived in the Netherlands in April, before a fifth round of dialogue scheduled for May was cancelled by Duterte. Since the collapse of the peace process earlier this year, violence has spiralled and deadly attacks have become a frequent occurrence.

Rody_-2

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte who was then Davao City Mayor, attends the wake of slain communist rebel Leoncio ‘Ka Parago’ Pitao leader. Source: UNEP

September saw several high-profile incidents, with NPA rebels killing four government troops in an ambush in Nueva Vizcaya at the start of the month, whilst on 20 September, nine Maoist rebels were slain in a clash with the Philippine army in Carranglan.

After several attempts to restart negotiations failed, rhetoric on both sides has become increasingly heated in recent months.

In August, President Duterte declared ‘war’ against the Maoists, stating ‘Let’s stop talking, start fighting’, before describing peace negotiations as a ‘waste of time’.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Only empty communist schools to be bombed – Duterte

The CPP responded by labelling Duterte’s administration as a ‘semi-colonial, anti-peasant regime’, whilst claiming ‘the people have no other recourse but to tread the path of militant struggle and collective action’. Amid the escalating war-of-words and with negotiations still stalled, this report examines the reasons why the peace talks faltered and assess the prospects of future dialogue.

The history of the modern communist movement in the Philippines dates back to 1968 and the founding of the CPP by a former student activist, Jose Maria Sison, who still leads the organization from self-exile in the Netherlands.

The party’s armed wing, the NPA, was established a year later with the aim of overthrowing the central government in Manila through a sustained campaign of armed resistance, referred to by the CPP-NPA as a ‘protracted people’s war’.

The movement is rooted in Marxist-Leninist ideology and seeks to establish a political system led by the working classes, which would redistribute land to the poor and expel US influence from the Philippines.

The NPA reached the height of its powers in the early-1980s during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, when it attracted widespread public support and had more than 25,000 members. In the democratic era, the movement has declined in strength but still retains an operational presence in most provinces across the country, and now has around 4,800 active members.

Clashes between NPA rebels and Philippine troops continue to occur sporadically as the insurgency approaches its sixth decade, despite repeated military crackdowns. The NPA remains especially strong in poorer rural areas where it enjoys widespread support and exercises de-facto control through the collection of ‘revolutionary taxes’; payments which Manila describes as extortion.

DSC_2209

NPA rebels practicing offensive maneuvers.Pic by Edwin Espejo

Peace negotiations have taken place intermittently in past decades between the National Democratic Front (NDF) – a political grouping which represents the CPP-NPA in formal talks – and successive governments led by Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino, yet to no avail.

The election of Duterte last year signalled renewed hope for peace, and the first round of talks with the NDF in August 2016 produced a landmark result: the declaration of ceasefires by both sides.

The commitment held and the parties convened again in Oslo two months later, before a third meeting in Rome this January. Yet at the beginning of February, months of careful diplomacy unravelled in a matter of days, whilst efforts to rekindle negotiations in the following months made little progress.

Both sides blamed each other as clashes resumed between the army and rebels, leaving many wondering: why did the talks falter, and how did the ceasefire collapse so quickly?

The trigger for the collapse was a result of the peace process reaching a major sticking-point over the release of political prisoners. As the dialogue moved forward, the CPP-NPA had made it clear that the release of imprisoned members was a pre-condition for the continuation of talks, whereas President Duterte maintained he would not release more prisoners until a formal joint ceasefire agreement had been signed.

Tensions surrounding the issue were already boiling over before the NPA lifted its unilateral ceasefire on Feb 1. Duterte followed-suit two days later after a series of NPA attacks on Philippine troops, immediately terminating the government’s ceasefire and accusing the ‘terrorist’ rebels of ‘wanting another fifty years of war’.

Whilst unsatisfied demands for a prisoner amnesty served as the trigger for the breakdown of talks earlier this year, there are several more deeply-rooted factors which contributed to the failure of dialogue and restrict the chances of ending the insurgency should talks resume.

First, the factional nature of the NPA – with armed units present in almost every province across the Philippines – and a lack of centralized operational leadership, makes it difficult for the largely symbolic figureheads of the CPP and NDF, responsible for negotiating with the government, to control the activities of their fighters.

parago-121

Supporters of the CPP-NPA-NDF marching through the streets of Davao City during teh funeral march of NPA commander Ka Parago.PHOTO BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Whilst a ceasefire is imposed from above, realities on the ground make it easy for violent clashes to occur in a local context. This often leads to further attacks and retaliatory violence, dealing a hammer blow to peace talks at the national level.

Second, a lack of trust exists between both sides. This makes progress difficult to sustain as firmly opposed positions have been reinforced over five decades of conflict. For example, as soon as the talks collapsed in February, both the government and CPP-NPA quickly reverted from making careful diplomatic overtures and returned to using divisive language describing each other as the ‘enemy’.

As the months passed, heated rhetoric has replaced the co-operative tones voiced last year, indicating the fragility of progressive dialogue and the difficulty of reversing long-held suspicions.

President Duterte came to power in 2016 promising to negotiate an end to the Philippines’ long-running internal conflicts, yet conditions appear only to have deteriorated.

SEE ALSO: ‘Imbecilic’ to listen to army on martial law, Filipino communist party tells Duterte

The government is now firefighting on multiple fronts: the army is still battling ISIS-aligned militants in Marawi, whilst at the same time Congress is trying to finalize a long-awaited peace deal with Moro separatist groups. And now, a resurgent communist insurgency is threatening to inflict further bloodshed.

The only way of resolving the conflict without a peace accord being signed is to tackle the root causes of the insurgency, which would undermine recruitment and support for the NPA through improving the livelihoods of the Philippines’ rural poor. This approach alone, however, would take decades, and without an accompanying peace deal, may not end the violence in its entirety.

This approach alone, however, would take decades, and without an accompanying peace deal, may not end the violence in its entirety.

To prevent further internal strife, the government and the NPA have a strong imperative to return to the path of negotiation. Duterte is unpredictable, so his declaration that the peace process with the NPA is over does not necessarily signal the end of the road. If there is a lull in rebel attacks and conditions are deemed right, talks may be restarted in the near future.

After five decades of armed resistance, the cycle of conflict will be difficult to break; yet the revival of the peace process represents the only viable path forward. Unless momentum is regained soon, the Philippines’ long-running Maoist insurgency may prove intractable for another generation.

The post What has Derailed Peace Talks with the Philippines’ Communist Rebels? appeared first on Asian Correspondent.

Asian Correspondent

Tags


Daily Deal

Related Stories

Where to, ARSA?
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 10:13

The month-long unilateral humanitarian ceasefire issued by the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) expired at midnight Oct. 9. The pause meant litt...

Eager to spend millennials are new engines of China’s economy
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 09:43

China’s consumption expenditure is set to receive a substantial boost from millennials who are willing to spend, with beer, dairy and home appli...

Steven Seagal meets 'The Punisher' Duterte, talks drug war
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 07:26

MANILA (Reuters) - U.S. actor Steven Seagal, famous for playing action roles like a vice squad detective in "Above the Law", met Philippine President ...

In Brexit Talks, the Risk of No Deal Looms Large
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 06:43

Prime Minister Theresa May promised that, while the U.K. was hoping for successful negotiations with the EU over leaving the bloc, it was preparing th...

India’s courts take the fun out of a Hindu holiday
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 05:51

High spirits, clogged lungsTHERE is a buzz in the air of India’s capital, and not just because Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is barely a wee...

South Korean court extends detention of ousted former president Park Geun-hye citing evidence concerns
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 04:13

Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye will be kept in detention for a further six months, a Seoul court ruled on Friday, as she stands trial in ...

Nato chief believes US military action against North Korea would lead to ‘devastating consequences’
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 03:13

Military intervention against North Korea would have “devastating consequences”, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg warned on Friday, after US Pr...

Corporate Scandals Say More About Japan Than the Nikkei
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 02:20

Japanese stocks are at a two-decade high, but the recent spate of corporate scandals shows all is still not well. WSJ.com: What's News Asia

Rebels appoint Thorpe as new Team Director
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 01:51

Melbourne Super Rugby team the Rebels have lured former All Blacks manager Tony Thorpe across the Tasman to fill the club’s new Team Director role. ...

Cambodia’s government asks the courts to abolish the opposition
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 01:16

No hugs for the oppositionTHE Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is nothing if not hardy. The main opposition to the government of Hun Sen, Cambodi...

Trudeau talks women's rights and NAFTA in speech to Mexican Senate
  • Sat, 14 Oct 2017 00:27

Progressive labour standards and greater action to advance women’s rights are key to ensuring society’s support for a modernized NAFTA deal, Prime...

China’s DJI offers system to track airborne drones as governments tighten restrictions
  • Fri, 13 Oct 2017 23:09

DJI, the world’s largest maker of recreational drones, has introduced a system that identifies and monitors airborne drones, as authorities in C...


News Categories
Latest Stories