Will Philippines’ revived peace talks end rebel conflict for good or ‘aid the enemy’?


Panelo described Marcos Jnr’s move as “kabalbalan” (outrageously stupid) and a “kabulastugan” (arrogant bluff) during his SMNI TV talk show on Wednesday.

Special Adviser to the President, Minister Antonio Lagdameo, front left, and Luis Jalandoni of the NDFP, shake hands after signing their joint vision for peace in Oslo on November 23. Photo: Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via NTB

Panelo claimed Duterte called off the last peace talks because the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), had used it as an opportunity to “accelerate” their attacks on soldiers and police. “Whoever is behind the resumption of peace talks is a secret enemy of the nation, unpatriotic and aiding the enemy,” he said.

At the other end of the reaction spectrum was General Romeo Brawner Jnr, who welcomed the announcement of “exploratory talks” as “very good news” on Tuesday, arguing that domestic peace would allow the military to better respond to foreign threats.

“If this conflict will finally end, your Armed Forces of the Philippines will be able to shift our focus to external or territorial defence. So our resources, efforts will be poured into defending our [West Philippine Sea] territory,” Brawner said, being careful to add that the military would continue its operations against the NPA until a peace treaty was signed.

Philippine National Police chief Benjamin Acorda Jnr also lauded the “very welcome development”, saying: “I look at it as a way of adding more food to the table for many Filipinos instead of spending more money on ammunition and other armaments.”

Philippine Army Chief Lieutenant General Romeo Brawner Jnr lauded the development, saying that domestic peace would allow the military to better respond to foreign threats. Photo: Reuters
The surprising news about the peace talks came via a joint communique from the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) released on Tuesday.

“Cognisant of the serious socioeconomic and environmental issues, and the foreign security threats facing the country, the parties recognise the need to unite as a nation in order to urgently address these challenges and resolve the reasons for the armed conflict,” the joint statement said.

“The parties acknowledge the deep-rooted socio-economic and political grievances and agree to come up with a framework that sets the priorities for the peace negotiation with the aim of achieving the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace,” it added.

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The statement, a product of informal discussions between the two parties that have been held in Oslo and facilitated by the Norwegian government since 2022, came as a shock even to close political observers.

“Yes, it was a surprise for me,” University of the Philippines political-science professor Jean Franco told This Week in Asia on Thursday, noting that early negotiations were probably held secretly to prevent them from being compromised.

Franco said the talks were “a plus point [for President Marcos] since it is an accomplishment and might help his image and [drop in] approval ratings”.

The fact that it has also angered those aligned with Duterte, who insiders believe is feuding with the Marcos clan, was probably “just an unintended consequence”.
Then Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte (second from right) speaks with military generals in the town of M’lang, North Cotabato province, on February 3, 2017. Photo: EPA

‘Time to have closure’

Every Philippine president that preceded Marcos Jnr tried to come to terms with the communists, and after failing, vowed to crush the insurgency. Duterte was the only one who came close to granting political accommodation to the communist rebels.

Tomas Buenaventura, a senior research assistant at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, noted in a report that Duterte’s peace talks were “initially promising”. Unilateral ceasefires were declared by both sides and the government freed some rebels, including Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, both senior CPP members.

But the rebels demanded the release of more detainees and talks broke down, followed by Duterte’s pledge of an “all-out war” and an intense surge in fighting, leading to massive casualties among the rebel ranks.

Marcos Jnr did not reverse Duterte’s plan when he took office in June 2022. Six months into his presidency, the Philippine armed forces claimed a “strategic victory” over the communists, saying it had “reduced” its number of members, weapons and guerilla fronts.

“We can confidently state that we have achieved strategic victory and are inching closer to total victory against these terrorists,” declared Bartolome Bacarro, the military chief at the time.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr salutes with then Philippine military chief Lieutenant General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro on January 3. Photo: AP

However, Bacarro’s successor General Brawner Jnr told the Foreign Correspondents Association forum in October that it would be “impossible” for the military to achieve “total annihilation” of the NPA, perhaps foreshadowing the need for renewed peace talks.

To address the fears of those such as Panelo who believe negotiations would only give the NPA time and space to regroup, presidential national security adviser Eduardo Año explained on Tuesday that “our objective actually is to eliminate the threats to national security, one of which is the threat from CPP-NPA”.

“It’s about time to have closure, a closure that is acceptable to everybody, to the Filipino people, particularly ending the armed struggle,” he added.

The NDFP’s media liaison officer Ricardo Lozano confirmed it was the Marcos government that approached them through a third-party facilitator, the Norwegian government.

“It was not totally unexpected that, sooner or later, given the politico-socio-economic situation in the country, someone from the government side would make initiatives, signals or even entreaties to go back to the negotiating table to talk again,” Luis Jalandoni, a member of the national executive council of the Utrecht-based NDFP, said on Thursday in an online interview.

The group has been linked to the Marcos family. The current president’s father, Ferdinand Marcos Snr, had inflated the rebels’ size and influence to justify establishing a dictatorship in the 1970s.

As for the “sincerity” of the late dictator’s son in holding peace talks, Jalandoni – who left Catholic priesthood to join the rebellion – told This Week in Asia: “For now, both parties have agreed that the presumption is always good faith on both sides, unless there would be manifest indications otherwise.

“But more than sincerity is the political will to genuinely address the root causes of the armed conflict and … implement steps and measures to resolve them leading to a peace that is not only just, but also lasting,” he added.

The road to a just and lasting peace is long and even tortuous … but we have to traverse that path because the people want and deserve it

Luis Jalandoni, NDF

The Marcos government has stressed that the exploratory talks would not resume where previous talks had become bogged down.

Presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jnr, a former military chief, took pains to explain to active duty military officers during a leadership summit on Wednesday that there would be no ceasefire, military operations against the NPA would continue and that negotiations would “start afresh”.

“The gut feel that I have … is there is a kind of commitment and also a kind of goodwill on both parties to continue to discuss some principled resolution to really end the armed conflict,” Galvez told presidential palace reporters on Tuesday. “I’m very confident that … we can finally end up with a final peace agreement.”

However, Luis Jalandoni, a member of the NDF national executive council, had said in a statement on October 28 that “the root of the armed conflict must be resolved” before there could be peace.

For decades, the NDF had identified the Philippines’ Mutual Defence Treaty, and lately, the presence of American soldiers under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, as core reasons for the armed conflict that should be resolved through the termination of such agreements.

Jalandoni warned: “The road to a just and lasting peace is long and even tortuous … but we have to traverse that path because the people want and deserve it.”


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