By LEON DULCE
The prospect of genuine peace has never been higher when President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a unilateral ceasefire to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the revolutionary Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army–National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) during his first State of the Nation Address.
Not “a peace of the dead” said Duterte, referring to the military solution of wiping out the communist rebels, but “a peace of the living” by meeting the “fundamental human needs of every man, woman, and child.” This, in simple terms, captures the concept of a ‘peace based on justice’: addressing the historic and continuing injustices that have mired the majority of Filipinos in chronic poverty, disempowerment, and repression. Injustices that have, for more than a century, driven the Filipino people down the road of civil war.
What ensued in the days that followed, however, plunged the peace process in tension: the NPA, who initially downgraded from an offensive to an ‘active defense’ stance in response, allegedly repulsed offensive operations by the 72nd Infantry Battalion-backed paramilitary group Alamara last July 27, killing one paramilitary and wounding four others. On the morning of July 31, an attack by the 8th-IB-attached paramilitary group NIPAR killed a pregnant woman, Makinit Gayoran, and wounded seven others, including five children.
On the evening of July 27, Duterte reversed his ceasefire declaration — two hours before the CPP’s intended declaration of its own unilateral ceasefire.
The July 31 violence is unambiguously a military operation that occurred while the government’s ceasefire declaration was still in force, a modus operandi of NIPAR similar to their cold-blooded murder of indigenous Lumad leader Datu Jimmy Liguyon in San Fernando, Bukidnon last March 5, 2012.
How does the AFP reconcile their business-as-usual operations with Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire, which was still in effect up until the NIPAR’s bloody attack? An army spokesperson spun it this way: they are merely continuing their support to law enforcement, in pursuance of their mandate to “secure the vital installations of the government projects or flagship projects.”
What exactly are the ‘vital installations’ that the AFP is mobilizing its troops for? In Bukidnon, NIPAR has been terrorizing Lumad communities to force consent to mining operations, including the small-scale gold mining operations controlled by NIPAR itself. In Kapalong, Japanese agri-industrial firm Sumitomo Fruits has encroached over 7,300 hectares of fertile lands and converted it into monocrop banana plantations that displaced peasant farmers and exposed their workers and the environment to toxic aerial sprays and other agrochemicals.
Imagine the scale of militarization—by the AFP, its paramilitary augmentations, corporation-sponsored SCAA paramilitaries, and private security contractors—once you consider that mining exploration and extraction tenements cover more than 800,000 hectares across the country, while agricultural plantations cover 500,000 hectares in Mindanao alone.
Not yet considered in the equation are the land areas covered by various big energy projects, such as the impending Jalaur Megadam which will engulf 28,000 hectares of forests and agricultural lands within the ancestral domains of the indigenous Tumandok in Iloilo. They have also experienced their share of militarization at the hands of the 61st Infantry Battalion. These are likely classified as ‘vital installations’ as well.
Apparently, these so-called development projects that serve as the AFP’s loophole in their commander-in-chief’s ceasefire declaration are precisely the reasons why grassroots communities are denied of land, water, food, livelihood, and rights. Duterte should know this: through environment secretary Gina Lopez, the Duterte administration has in fact already suspended six large-scale mining operations that not only have caused environmental destruction and pollution, but have also benefitted from militarized security.
Is it worth it for President Duterte to trade away the prospect of a genuinely just peace for these much reviled ‘vital installations?’ Isn’t the pull-out of big mines, plantations, mega dams, and other forms of development aggression and the militarization that it wreaks upon grassroots communities precisely the justice that would give the Filipino people the “peace of the living” that Duterte promised?
Hasn’t the CPP-NPA-NDF consistently practiced its policy of rejecting and punishing these projects exactly because they bring nothing but misery and suffering to the people? If this cry for justice is the common sentiment of both the Duterte administration and the revolutionary groups, then there’s no need for government troops to continue militarizing the various interior villages that stand in the way of these destructive projects.
Pres. Duterte should understand that the peace we all want and need is not compatible with business-as-usual militarization and gung-ho ultimatums. Let’s get back on the table and start talking peace once again.
Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a spokesperson of the Ecological Challenge for Change Coalition.