“We must address the real roots of the armed fighting. And that would address the long-standing problems of Filipinos, ours and our Moro brothers, too.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The fifth round of peace talks is pushing through this week with a tougher agenda, but one that could bring the country closer to peace.
In an interview with Ruben Saluta, one of the peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, he clarified that contrary to what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had said, the representatives of the Duterte government expressly told them that no, the New People’s Army is not officially included in the target of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Still, Saluta said the revolutionary movement is opposed to whatever form of martial law. Speaking at the sidelines of the Black Friday protest at the Chino Roces Bridge against the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, he reiterated the position of the NDFP that martial law is not, and has never been, a solution to the problems that give rise to armed fighting. He said there are other strong options for dealing with the likes of the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf in those parts of Lanao del Sur, but none of those options involve shrouding the other masses of people in Mindanao, let alone the whole country, under martial law. That would exert a heavy implication not only on the peace talks but also on the people’s human rights, he said.
“Our stand is, don’t blow out of proportion the Maute and Abu Sayyaf problem. If it’s a problem only in those parts of Marawi or Lanao del Sur, don’t involve the rest of Mindanao or the entire Philippines to the point of declaring martial law,” said Saluta.
He said even the calls of CPP founder Jose Maria Sison asking the NPAs to intensify tactical offensives is a response to the ultra-rightists and militarists in the Duterte government who’d long wanted martial law.
“Lorenzana, Esperon, Año, they’re the same in wanting to just put an end to the peace talks. To them there’s no value in talking peace. They’ve been looking for a chance to push their agenda,” Saluta said. He did not discount the possibility that the Maute incident is just being used by the militarists to force the Duterte administration to a trap.
The peace negotiation is pushing through despite these peace spoilers, but Saluta anticipates more clashing of ideas.
“For us we don’t really subscribe to the thinking that peace can be based on artificial means,” he explained.
Then and now, he said, what they are pushing for is peace based on justice, but what the ultra-rightists and militarists in government want is “peace of the cemetery.”
With martial law, “It’s not like they are really addressing the roots of the armed fighting. We must address the real roots of the armed fighting. And that would address the long-standing problems of Filipinos, ours and our Moro brothers, too,” Saluta explained.
High hopes thru talks for people’s economic development
Saluta and the rest of the peace consultants will monitor the peace talks as it opens today. Different from the hawkish pronouncements of the militarists in the Duterte government, they expect, and have seen, in fact, some toned down statements against the CPP-NPA-NDF from the government peace panel.
Saluta said that as long as the Philippine government is open to peace talks, the NDF would certainly not withdraw from it.
The revolutionary forces are adamant about the people enjoying not only some reprieve and immediate relief but a chance to really have their long-standing socio-economic demands met at last.
Along those lines, Saluta said, the talks have advanced in a big way. In this fifth round of talks, the panels will tackle CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms), free land distribution, rural development, and now will include also aspects of national industrialization and environmental protection.
“Compared to the fourth round where the talks focused on their (the GRP’s) insistence to make us sign a bilateral ceasefire, the talks now is all about free land distribution. And rural development,” Saluta said.
The government has agreed also to provide rural support to ensure the success of the land reform program. “What we’re pushing now includes national industrialization, developing the national economy so it will be self-reliant. We need to develop an economy that is not dependent on the dictates of big capitalists,” said Saluta.
Even as they tackle plans and programs to develop the national economy, the revolutionary group insists also on ensuring that the rights of labor and the people are taken into account.
“Yes, a lot of positive things may still come out of the peace talks,” Saluta told Bulatlat. But, he added, the problem remains that there are these peace spoilers in government. “Lorenzana, these militarists in the Cabinet,” for example.
The declaration of martial law in Mindanao is just their latest attempt at throwing a wrench on the peace negotiations. While at the peace talks they are tackling item after item of what have long been demanded by the Filipino people – demands for which some of them have embraced armed fighting, including the Moros – the militarists would rather put an end to this fighting through the artificial ‘solution’ of peace of the cemetery, or this martial law, Saluta said.
He urged Filipinos to not be repressed and cowed by this, to continue to speak out against martial law and the repression it entails. He urged also for the continuous support of the ongoing peace talks, where, he said, the peace they’re after is peace based on justice, one that will result from “really addressing the roots of the armed fighting.”