Collapse of Peace Talks: Voices for Peace
SO SWEET to begin with, how did it turn sour so soon?
The prospects for peace on this front had never seemed brighter, given the initiatives made by President Rodrigo Duterte to welcome the communists to the negotiating table. No other president seemed as open to the Left than the former city mayor who claimed he was a socialist, talking freely about forming a revolutionary government. As early as May 16, 2016, just a week after his victory at the polls and during his first press conference as president-elect, Duterte publicly invited the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), Jose Maria Sison, to come home. During his first State of the Nation address on July 25, the president boldly declared a unilateral ceasefire, a cessation of military operations against the New People’s Army (NPA).
With the Royal Norwegian Government acting as facilitator, the talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) began in Oslo on August 22. During the second round (October 6 – 10), the talks moved significantly toward a ceasefire agreement. In its joint statement, the government and the NDF said “The Parties stressed that they are exerting best efforts to develop a single unified document of a bilateral ceasefire agreement within a desired period.”
The third round of the talks ended on January 25, 2017. Both sides signed on to the affirmation of bilateral agreements in the past, including The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity of Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). They also agreed to fast-track discussions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). The fourth round was supposed to happen February 22 – 25.
Unfortunately, the media has not been able to provide adequately a quick background on these documents.
While the prospects for success seemed good, this period witnessed the trading of accusations by the AFP and NPA, each claiming the other was engaged in efforts to sabotage the ceasefire. On the first week of February, it was clear that the third round had ended in an impasse and that both sides had turned away from the talks.
The GRP and the NDF announced separately the lifting of their respective unilateral ceasefires. President Duterte said “Peace with the communists might not come in this generation.” As of Tuesday, February 7, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced it was pursuing the “all-out-war” policy against the NPA. JASIG was also terminated.
CMFR reviewed coverage of broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Manila Standard, Daily Tribune, BusinessWorld, BusinessMirror) as well as primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA 7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s Aksyon) as well as news programs on cable channels (ANC’s The World Tonight and GMA News TV’s State of the Nation with Jessica Soho) from February 1 to 6.
The end of ceasefire and cancellation of talks were reported in the newscasts and frontpages of most broadsheets monitored. As expected, the press collected the statements from either side to explain the failure.
Voices for Peace
The media did what it had not done too eagerly in the past. It recorded the voices for peace and surfaced the basis for the return of the parties to the peace table.
Senators Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, and Francis Pangilinan, some elders, retired professionals, and other peace groups including the Campaign for a Just and Lasting Peace (Kapayapaan) were presented as sources who argued for continuing the talks.
Commendably, some tried to include more in their reporting. Jessica Soho, in the February 6 newscast of State of the Nation, attempted to make sense of the collapse by asking Raffy Tima: Did the president consult the government panel when he made the decision? Perhaps, she conjectured, this was just an emotional response and that it would be possible to go back to the talks. Panel members, according to Tima, recommended to the president that the government not cancel the talks even when the NPA lifted their ceasefire. Tima added that panel members and consultants of NDF are still hopeful. (“Pres. Duterte, Pinanindigan Ang Desisyon NiyangTuldukan Na Ang Peace Talks Ng Gobyerno at NDFP”)
Christian Esguerra’s report in The World Tonight on the same day also pursued sources from the Left who were still open to talks. Luis Jalandoni, NDF senior adviser, said in the report that they think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction because the president earlier said he wants the peace talks to resolve issues like land reform, national industrialization and poverty. Satur Ocampo, a former chief NDF negotiator, also said that he interpreted it as an off understatement. (“Duterte: Peace with the Communists might not come in this generation”)
Recognizing the difficulties on both sides, the media should provide the kind of background information which can help the public clarify the common ground that could draw both sides to the table and restart the peace process which could end the longest communist insurgency in the world.