When government peace negotiators and those of the National Democratic Front (NDF) resume their talks this week in Noordwijk Ann-see, Netherlands, it will be with a great deal of uncertainty and even tension in this fifth meeting.
For a time, they were not sure of meeting again after President Duterte stopped the talks last February following attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA) in various parts of the country over the government’s refusal to release some 400 political prisoners. After some back-channel talks, the two sides agreed to meet again for their fifth session May 26 to June 2.
But then last Tuesday, President Duterte proclaimed martial law in Mindanao, adding the next day that he may extend it to the entire country if the threat of terrorism posed by the Maute Group spills out of Mindanao. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) immediately countered on its website with a directive to the NPA to step up their offensives in the country.
Relations between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA have always been problematic, which is probably why the NPA rebellion has lasted all these 47 years. President Duterte, counting on his close relations with Jose Ma. Sison, founding chairman of the CPP and now chief political consultant of the NDF, initiated the new peace talks and even invited the movement to nominate some cabinet members. But Sison, in a recent interview with the Manila Bulletin, clarified that the negotiating panel only represents the CPP-NPA whose decision is what ultimately matters.
With the CPP directive to the NPA field forces to step up their attacks in response to the proclamation of martial law, what happens now to the peace talks?
Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chairman of the government negotiating panel, deplored the CPP reaction, saying it had made a false reading of the proclamation. Martial law, he said, is not aimed at the NPA, but at the Maute which is inspired by the extremist Islamic State movement The CPP may well retort that in martial law, government operations without the normal judicial processes would affect all opposing the Armed Forces in the field.
There will be some effort to clarify matters at ttis week’s fifth meeting of the negotiators in the Netherlands. Bello and the other government panelists will tell the NDF negotiators that the CPP-NPA should not feel threatened by martial law. It is uncertain if the NDF panel will see logic in this. In any case, as Sison had earlier clarified, it is the CPP-NPA in the field which will make the decision.
After all the progress that has been achieved in the previous four meetings, it would be truly unfortunate if all their efforts will now come to naught.
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