1. What's eating Rody Duterte?
Here is a president who said he is from the Left, understands the Left and promised peace with the Left. He talks of knowing the historical injustice and the futility of war. "We've been fighting for four decades and what have we achieved? Why don't we talk?" Talk he did by releasing on bail 19 detained National Democratic Front consultants for the resumption of peace talks. He even invited NDF members including Luis Jalandoni, Benito and Wilma Tiamzon to Malacañang in the course of the talks.
But after February 3, the President started to talk differently. The ceasefire is called off, then the peace talks, then NDF consultants would be re-arrested and the NPAs are called "terrorists" and soldiers are given orders to "clean their rifles and prepare for war."
It's an unraveling that has startled supporters and observers of Duterte who knows his ties and political deft in dealing with the Left. Is it truth that the news about soldiers were killed during operations made him change track?
The answer is in Duterte’s words uttered in his press conference last February 3, when he said military officials are not happy and may oust him if he plans to release political prisoners.
Here we see Duterte who as commander-in-chief is doing a precarious choice between ideologies, interests and social classes. It is sad he made a choice that has put peace in the backseat.
2. Was the political prisoners a major issue why the talks broke down?
The amnesty for 400 political prisoners was Duterte’s call, said the NDF panel. It was a move done before by Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos. Even as Duterte made “urong-sulong” in his promise, the government panel assured this will come. The non-release didn’t hamper the course of the talks, though the NDF would reiterate the need to release political prisoners not as a matter of goodwill, but a matter of committing to social justice.
3. What hangs in the balance now?
Peace talk observer Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said it is sad that the talks under Duterte was going well up to this point. In the recent round in Rome last January, both panels had progressed in drafting principles on the second agenda, the socio-economic reforms. This is a major agenda as economic issues like agrarian reform, national industries, jobs generation could unlock the key to problems to give equity to the poor.
Another major agreement was the implementation of mechanisms for the Joint Monitoring Committee to look into violations from both sides on their signed document on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. This could have perhaps paved the way for a stronger bilateral ceasefire and monitoring of human rights issues on the ground.
4. Without talks, is it time for war?
The NDF said there is still no formal call for postponement and it will take time. They called for active defense, as they will still support the calls to continue peace talks while defending their territories. For AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año, he said will "hit hard on the Reds". Ironic that the latest counter-insurgency plan is called Oplan Kapayapaan. Guess who’s wanting to throw peace out of the window.
5. What's next?
Going back to Duterte, he said he would return to the table if "there is a compelling reason". In just a matter of days, we have seen arrests of an NDF consultant and members in Mindanao, and extrajudicial killings of activists and Lumads. A President turning up a war against the Reds at the same time with his war on drugs is compelling us to call for some sense in what is going on.
NDF senior adviser Luis Jalandoni said it right, "peace for the country is compelling enough to continue." Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, for his part, said "the road to just and lasting peace is not easy to traverse. There are humps and bumps, and curves and detours along the way. What is important is that we all stay the course."
As Duterte said himself, there are historical injustice. Even if the fate of the talks hinge on Duterte and his close advisers, the call for peace comes from the people, who want an alternative to this system that both panels seem earnest to address. Peace advocates now have to work fast to educate and mobilize people to urge both parties that the better way for this country is to talk peace rather than deepen the wounds of war in a very fractured nation.