Another chance for peace

Another chance for peace

Security officials are opposing a Christmas truce with the communist New People’s Army. At the same time, however, President Duterte and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison are ready to give peace yet another chance. After the months-long exchange of insults between the President and the CPP-NPA leader, the revival of peace talks is a welcome development in this season of hope.

The President tasked Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to get in touch with Sison in the Netherlands, where the communist leader has been living in self-exile for decades. Bello said Sison expressed readiness to resume formal peace negotiations.

It’s not the first time that the talks are being restarted under the Duterte administration. Duterte, who says he was a socialist in his youth, has reached out to the communist movement, even appointing several of its sympathizers as Cabinet members and agency heads. He might not be exaggerating when he tells the rebels that he is their one last hope for peace.

Since the President assumed power, the talks have been on and off, collapsing for the same reasons. He asks the NPA to stop attacks on government security forces, to stop extorting “revolutionary taxes” from businessmen and other civilians, and to refrain from burning and destroying the assets of those who refuse. These are the core activities of the NPA, however, and the government is virtually calling for a cessation or suspension of its operations. The President’s calls have been consistently ignored, eliciting from him a hail of expletives after almost every NPA attack on government forces.

Now, perhaps in the spirit of the season, the President has reignited the peace initiative. It’s off to a rough start as Sison, citing threats to his life, refuses to return from exile and hold the peace negotiations in the Philippines.

While tackling this early snag, the government must continue addressing the root causes of discontent that drive people in this country toward insurgency movements.

At the same time, there can be no letup in dealing with the armed activities of the NPA. Rebel extortion and violent activities are major disincentives to job-generating investments. Their torching of telecommunications towers disrupts and prevents the improvement of services.

Certain quarters believe it’s better to pursue peace at the local level, considering rifts in the communist movement and perceptions that Sison does not have full control of rebel forces. Such misgivings will be set aside once again as the peace process is given another chance. Let’s hope it will move farther this time.