Convening the National Security Council’s executive committee last Tuesday at the Ebuen military airbase in Cebu, President Duterte issued orders to push harder state actions against the Left revolutionary movement.
Specifically he ordered the Department of Justice to pursue its petition for proscription, filed in February at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19, urging the court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorist organizations,” according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Also, the NSC-EC announced, according to Panelo, the creation of a “national task force” to address the armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the CPP-NPA. He was apparently referring to an executive order, drafted by the AFP, creating a National Task Force to End Communist Insurgency, which Duterte had presumably signed.
Recall that in September, when the AFP disclosed the “Red October” plot canard, its spokesperson, Col. (now Brig. Gen.) Edgard Arevalo cited the draft executive order that would “integrate and harmonize all efforts of government agencies to solve the lingering issues that drive the armed conflict.”
In this regard, AFP chief Gen. Carlito Galvez has pushed for the inclusion of “parliamentary struggle” as an anti-insurgency target along with the clampdown on the growing progresssive youth movement to “stop recruitment” in schools allegedly into the underground revolutionary movement.
The following day, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana boldly declared that “victories” of the AFP would likely fulfill Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that the nearly 50-year armed conflict with the Left revolutionary forces would be “over” by the second quarter of 2019.
Addressing the 79th anniversary of the Department of National Defense, Lorenzana bragged:
“With the influx of NPA surrenderers responding to the President’s sincere call for peace, the inter-agency Task Force Balik-Loob was created last April 2018 to centralize the government’s reintegration efforts for former rebels and oversee the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).”
(The military calls E-CLIP the Duterte administration’s “flagship program that seeks to address social healing and national unity toward the higher objective of having just and lasting peace.” The program, says the Task Force Balik-Loob, aims to provide “social equity” to former members of the CPP-NPA and the Milisya ng Bayan “in order to reintegrate them into mainstream society.” The package includes financial assistance, shelter/housing, education, skills training, health care, legal assistance, among others. These would be provided through “a convergence of various national and local government agencies.”)
As of September 2018, Lorenzana boasted, the AFP Peace and Development Office had recorded 3,443 rebel returnees. For this year, he added, “AFP internal security operations led to the neutralization of 1,162 [NPA] members,” of which, he pointed out, 907 voluntarily surrendered. “All these victories led to the recent pronouncement of our commander-in-chief, President Duterte, that the communist insurgency will be over by the second quarter of 2019,” the defense chief concluded.
Now take note of this: Panelo’s and Lorenzana’s announcements cited above indicate that the Duterte government has been acting in bad faith in its peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In April 2018, President Duterte directed his peace negotiating panel to engage its NDFP counterpart in back-channel discussions. He gave them 60 days to lay the favorable conditions for the resumption of the fifth round of GRP-NDFP formal negotiations, which he had twice suspended and then “terminated,” through a presidential proclamation, in November 2017.
Yet, it was on April 3 – before he called for back-channel talks – that Duterte signed Adminisrative Order No. 10, creating the Task Force Balik-Loob (TF-BL). Its overarching objective is to induce members of the CPP-NPA to surrender.
Funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), from an P8-billion budgetary allocation for its Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana) counterinsurgency program, the TF-BL is headed by DND undersecretary Reynaldo Mapagu, with representatives from the Office of the President, OPAPP, DND, DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government), and the NHA (National Housing Authority).
Did Duterte fully understand the objective of TF-BL? By going through the motion of engaging in back-channel discussions with the NDFP peace negotiating panel, had he in mind to lead the latter up a blind alley? And were the members of the GRP negotiating panel unwittingly used by their principal?
As I quoted Duterte in this space on Aug. 18, he told an assemblage of dignitaries, big businessmen and government officials in Malacanang on Aug. 14 about his terminating the GRP-NDFP peace talks: “So sorry, Atty. [Silvestre] Bello was there. He was the one with [OPAPP head Jesus] Dureza. But I didn’t know they [were] back-channeling.”
The two panel’s respective representatives were able to produce three preliminary agreements (two signed, one initialed) and had set June 26-28 for holding the fifth round of formal negotiations in Oslo. But Duterte, after consulting a joint AFP-PNP command conference, again suspended the negotiations for three months, supposedly to allow the GRP panel to engage in public consultations and for him to review all previously signed agreements.
The three-month suspension period has lapsed. No public consultations by the GRP panel have been reported. Neither has there been any inkling on the result of Duterte’s review of all previously signed agreements, except his remark that the documents he had read show the NDFP wanted a coalition government – which he outrightly rejected.
Despite the lack of progress in the negotiation process, and the president’s preference for a battlefield solution, it is interesting to note that during a “high-level” meeting on TF-BL, former AFP chief now DILG secretary Eduardo Ano reminded his colleagues:
“In order for us to truly solve insurgency, it is still impossible to wipe them [the insurgents] out completely or eliminate them through force. Even if you look at all other insurgencies in the world, they did not end in fighting but rather through negotiation, or by a win-win solution.”
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Published in Philippine Star
Nov. 3, 2018