By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
NDFP Chief Political Consultant
Despite Duterte’s avowal of trying to develop an independent foreign policy, pro-U.S. die-hards have their way in sabotaging peace negotiations.
By all major indications, the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) headed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and the revolutionary forces represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are heading for the rocks, despite the strong clamor for these negotiations by the public and a broad range of peace advocates and despite the patient and efficient third party role of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) as facilitator.
For more than a year, since May 16, 2016, Duterte has not fulfilled his promise to release more than 400 NDFP-listed political prisoners through general amnesty or the prosecutors’ withdrawal of the false charges of common crimes against them. The promise to release all political prisoners encouraged the NDFP to agree to an acceleration of the peace negotiations on social, economic, political and constitutional reforms in order to address the roots of the now 48 years of civil war between the GRP and NDFP.
But after four rounds of formal talks (two in Oslo in 2016, one in Rome in January 2017 and one in Noordwijk, Netherlands in April 2017), the GRP has steadily backed out of its promise to release all political prisoners and Duterte himself has publicly expressed regrets for having released from prison a mere 19 of them in August last year. These are NDFP political consultants who are protected by the GRP-NDFP Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and should never have been arrested and imprisoned at all. Worst, President Duterte has twice threatened (in February and May 2017) these consultants with rearrest and shoot-to-kill orders while they were engaged in the peace negotiations abroad.
In the course of the four rounds of formal talks, the GRP negotiating panel has given the highest priority to discussions on a prolonged and indefinite bilateral ceasefire in a vain effort to obtain quickly the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary forces and the people. The GRP has blatantly shown diminishing interest in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and in the sequenced forging of comprehensive agreements on social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and on the end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
Duterte retains in his cabinet rabid exponents of U.S.-instigated neoliberal economic policy, like Director General Ernesto Pernia of the National Economic Development Authority, Secretary Carlos Dominguez III of the Finance Department and Secretary Benjamin Diokno of the Department of Budget and Management. He has allowed his “supermajority” in Congress to remove Gina Lopez from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources because of her opposition to the plundering and polluting operations of mining companies.
Duterte has shown a lack of sustained interest in genuine land reform and national industrialization proposed by the NDFP. He has demagogically used the slogan of change only to stick to the status quo and further entrench the interests of the United States and other foreign monopolies and the oligarchy of big compradors and landlords. He prefers continuing the export of raw materials, semi-manufactures, and cheap labor and taking onerous foreign loans to sustain import-dependent consumption and infrastructure building and to cover the ever growing chronic trade deficit and balance of payments.
The NDFP has offered to co-found the Federal Republic of the Philippines with the GRP, provided there are guarantees for political and economic sovereignty, people’s democracy, respect for human rights, development, social justice, patriotic culture and independent foreign policy against foreign dominance, dynasticism, warlordism and other forms of local reaction. But the Duterte regime appears convinced that it alone can proceed to establish an authoritarian regime or even a fascist rule by capitalizing on its supposed “iron hand” success against illegal drugs and by shifting now to an “anti-terrorist” campaign that paves the way for a Marcos-type nationwide martial law, adoption of a new constitution and its ratification by local assemblies run by barangay captains to be appointed by Duterte and controlled by his Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change).
Despite Duterte’s avowal of trying to develop an independent foreign policy in a multipolar world, by approaching China and Russia and reducing the overwhelming U.S. hegemony over the Philippines, pro-U.S. and reactionary die-hards like defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon and armed forces chief of staff Eduardo Año have their way in perpetuating U.S. dominance over the Philippine military and in sabotaging GRP-NDFP peace negotiations by waging an all-out war policy under Oplan Kapayapaan against the revolutionary forces and people since February 2017 after deviously continuing Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan.
Lorenzana, Esperon and Año are hell-bent on escalating offensive campaigns against the New People’s Army and other revolutionary forces and using the peace negotiations to obtain the capitulation and pacification of these forces under the guise of a prolonged and indefinite bilateral ceasefire agreement, which puts aside substantive negotiations and comprehensive agreements on social, economic and constitutional reforms. Such ceasefire agreement is supposed to be coupled with socio-economic dole outs from the GRP and foreign entities and prevent the basic socio-economic reforms demanded by the people.
The so-called security cluster in the Duterte cabinet has Duterte practically on the cusp of its hands on national security issues. Longtime Washington resident Defense Secretary Lorenzana has been able to put U.S. military forces at play in the air and ground surveillance and bombing of Marawi City, resulting in indiscriminate mass destruction of civilian lives and property and the displacement of more than 300,000 people in Marawi and nearby areas. The irony in the Marawi tragedy is that U.S. military intervention has been justified at the highest level of the Duterte regime by the special operations of the CIA-directed and Islamic state (Daesh)-affiliated Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
Duterte himself has become insecure, despite his current obeisance to the United States and his own security cluster. He himself has acknowledged that he faces threats of assassination or coup. It seems to be beneficial to Duterte that the United States and his own security cluster are egging him on to include the revolutionary forces led by the Communist Party of the Philippines as among the “terrorist” targets of the reactionary state to rationalize a Mindanao-wide and then nationwide proclamation of martial law. But this will make Duterte even more vulnerable to a “soft” coup by the pro-U.S. retired and active generals around him or to a popular broad united front against his regime. When he becomes more of a liability than an asset to the United States, even the pro-U.S. officials around him are likely to turn against him and cooperate with anti-Duterte forces within and outside of the reactionary armed forces and police.
A newly-elected president in the Philippines usually obtains in his first year of office a high popularity and trust rating from the mercenary opinion poll survey firms. Subsequently, his reputation deteriorates as his promises remain unfulfilled, problems are aggravated and projects fall short of targets and are afflicted by corruption, The Duterte regime is already reeking with corruption even before it can fulfill its promise of punishing the big crooks in the previous Aquino regime. However, Duterte is now most liable for gross human rights violations for the thousands of extra-judicial killings in his Oplan Tokhang against illegal drugs and for the indiscriminate bombings and artillery fire on communities in his all-out war policy against the revolutionary forces and in his campaign against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi and other Bangsamoro groups elsewhere.
The socio-economic and political conditions in the Philippines and in the world are not favorable for the Duterte regime to abandon peace negotiations with the NDFP and to pursue authoritarian ambitions. Having a growth rate of the gross domestic product at around 7 per cent or even higher is not a true measure economic and social development. It merely obscures in vain how the exploiting classes appropriate for themselves the social wealth created by the working people. Poverty is widespread because of extreme forms of exploitation in an underdeveloped economy. Mass unemployment is actually rising, incomes of the working people are plunging and taxes and prices of basic commodities are soaring. The use of authoritarianism and state terrorism will only serve to inflame further the Filipino people’s resistance.
The Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines have publicly expressed their readiness to fight and defeat the all-out war policy of the Duterte regime. At the same time, they are still willing to pursue the peace negotiations with the GRP even under conditions of the severest fighting in the civil war in order to rouse and rally the people along the patriotic and progressive line, explore further how to serve the interest of the people and forge the comprehensive agreements for a just and lasting peace against the oppressive and exploitative forces of foreign monopoly capitalism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.