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Restarting Peace Talks: Reports Holding Back on Hope | CMFR

Restarting Peace Talks: Reports Holding Back on Hope

Screengrab from ABS-CBN News Youtube account.


ANOTHER CHAPTER looms in the on-again, off-again peace talks between the government (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples’ Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) as both parties now claim that they are willing to resume negotiations.

On March 25, 61 members of the lower house signed House Resolution No. 1803: Calling for Resumption of Peace Talks. Lawmakers crossed party lines as members of the left-wing Makabayan bloc, the opposition and the administration adopted the resolution.

While the resolution may not have drawn the majority of the House, it signaled a change of heart in the administration about making peace with the Left. On April 4, the president ordered the resumption of the peace talks; while the CPP had already expressed their willingness to proceed with the negotiations on March 29.

Recent Context

Recall that the talks were canceled by the president in November 2017 following NPA  attacks on government forces while the negotiations were going on. A month later, Duterte even proclaimed the CPP-NPA as a terror group.

News reports did not note what caused the administration’s shift in policy and dramatic turn-around in the president’s position.  Obviously, the resolution reflected the readiness of Congress to support it.

News reports on Sunday, April 8, carried Duterte’s order, giving both sides 60 days to get back to the peace table.

Media Not on the Same Page

The resolution noted that the“peace negotiations under the Duterte administration had reached remarkable and unparalleled headway after the four successful rounds of negotiations,” arguing that peace talks would benefit the Filipino people, especially the poor farmers and workers.

But media coverage of the resolution chose not to follow its hopeful lead; choosing instead to highlight the exchange from both sides of arguments and accusations about whose fault it was that earlier talks collapsed.

With the president’s order to resume negotiations, media reports have yet to clarify how the Department of Justice (DOJ) petition to outlaw the communist party will affect the negotiations (See: “Missing out on the Witch-hunt: Delayed Media Attention on List of Terrorists”).

CMFR reviewed the coverage of broadsheets (Philippine Daily InquirerThe Philippine StarManila Bulletin) as well as primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA 7’s 24 Oras, CNN Philippines’ News Night and TV5’s Aksyon) from March 25 when the resolution was filed to April 8.

Reporting the Resolution

The resumption of peace talks was reported as banner stories in the broadsheets from March 26-27.

Meanwhile, with primetime newscasts concentrating on Holy Week traffic updates, only Aksyon (March 26 episode) and TV Patrol (March 25 episode) reported the story.

Collecting statements from both government and the Left, media reports picked up heated exchange between the two parties, which accused each other of sabotaging the peace talks.

For the government side, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused the communist party of taking advantage of the peace talks. As reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also called them “spoilers of peace” (“No peace talks yet, Reds ‘spoilers of peace’ – Palace”).

Meanwhile, the Left placed the blame on Sec. Lorenzana. In another report by the Inquirer, Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis) accused Lorenzana for stalling the peace talks and belittling the gains from the negotiations (“Sison: Gov’t, NDFP teams already agreed on truce”).

The hostile views displaced the hopes for peace embodied in the resolution.

Notably, some reports stayed with the significance of the resolution.  CMFR cheers media’s efforts to highlight the chances for peace.

The Philippine Star cited Tinay Palabay, secretary general of NGO Karapatan, and Rep. Carlo Zarate (Bayan Muna Party-list) who spoke in favor of the peace talks and House Resolution 1803. It also quoted Jose Ma. Sison, CPP founder, who stressed the importance of the congress’ role for the peace negotiations to resume (“Congress can help move peace talks forward, Joma says”).

The Philippine Star also recalled the gains of the talks before these were halted in November 2017. A separate report included references made by Danilo Ramos, chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) who briefly discussed the signed agreements so far. Ramos noted that CASER embodies a response to the demands of basic sectors; and Palabay (Karapatan) who referred to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and The Hague Joint Declaration. (“Still no peace talks’”).

Promise of Peace

Presidential determination could goad both sides to a peace settlement, as Duterte’s ultimatum clearly places responsibility on the Left as well should the talks fail. As quoted by the Inquirer on April 8, the president repeated what he had said to Sison: Änd if we fail, then I will be happy to send you off to the airport. But do not ever, ever come again, because the next time, I will personally shoot you.” (“Duterte: Reds, gov’t panel have 60 days to restart talks”)

What Guides Duterte’s Peace Policy

Media coverage during the period cited did not inquire into the issue of Duterte’s decision declare the CPP as a terror group, a petition that remains pending in the DOJ. This could complicate matters. The same Inquirer report cited above also quoted Sison as saying that the government should withdraw proscriptive petitions that would cause its members to be hunted down as criminals and terrorists.

There is much uncovered territory and unexamined material underlying the prospects of peace. Media reports do not seem intent to understand and explain what underlying fundamental principles actually guide the president as he switches on and off on the issues of peace. Journalists have been completely passive-reactive, recording without question the implications of the president’s remarks when he is angry with the Communists.  Reports also let pass the quick and unexplained departure from previous positions without explanation.

Is peace then wholly dependent on the president’s will or whim?

All Filipinos should see themselves as stakeholders in this quest for peace. But for a just and lasting peace settlement with any insurgent group such as the CPP-NPA-NDF, the peace process can engage the Filipino people only when their hearts and minds embrace the underlying principles that guide the negotiations.

How this round of talks observe these principles should involve more actors than President Duterte. And the media should do its part to make this happen.