Doomed to fail

“The rebels want to have their cake and eat it, too.

It sounds good in theory: If not at the national level, why not at the local?
We’re talking about the new tack taken by the Duterte administration regarding the stalled political negotiations with the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF), which is localized peace talks.

The NDF has already flatly rejected the idea in no uncertain terms, calling it an attempt to isolate Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman and now NDF chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison from his followers.

The rebels also described localized peace talks as “a classic divide- and-rule tactic” intended to “hoodwink local CPP leaders and NPA commanders into agreeing to local ceasefire arrangements and later on induce them to surrender.”

Sison even derided localized peace talks as “little zarzuelas staged by the military and local peace and order councils for (psychological war) purposes and for pocketing public funds in the name of fake surrenders.”

We’re not surprised that the rebels reacted this way. Their current stand on peace talks hews closely to what has been their position since the 1970s, which is to enter into peace talks with the government only if it will serve their ultimate goal of seizing political power through the barrel of the gun.

Under conditions where they are still in the period of strategic defensive, the Maoist rebels want peace talks with the government to serve a clear political purpose, which is propaganda mileage. They can use peace negotiations to explain to the people what they stand for and to cite battlefield victories; to give them a breathing spell from fighting in the trenches, and to extract political concessions from the government that would allow them to continue the armed struggle, such as the release of imprisoned comrades.

Under conditions of strategic stalemate and strategic offensive, peace talks offer the rebel movement a convenient platform to claim success in the armed struggle and to convince government soldiers that resistance is futile. But given their current strength according to the AFP of only 3,000 to 4,000 regular fighters spread out in a few regions in the country, particularly in non-Muslim Mindanao, the NPA isn’t likely to achieve strategic stalemate, let alone strategic offensive, in the near future against government forces that consist of no fewer than 150,000 soldiers and an equal number of policemen with superior firepower and logistics.

After 50 years of fighting the government but with no clear prospect of attaining victory in the armed struggle, the communist leadership has no choice but to engage in peace talks even while fighting is going on.

One problem is that the rebels want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want the government to release all political prisoners, including so-called “peace consultants” who they claim are helping in the talks, but do not want to respond in kind with their own confidence-building measures, such as a bilateral ceasefire while talks are ongoing.

The NDF wants to declare even a temporary ceasefire after agreement has been reached on substantive economic and political reforms. The NPA rebels have also spurned calls for them to end “revolutionary taxation” or monthly collections mainly from mining, logging and constructions firms to support their day-to-day operations.

Another obstacle to a peace agreement, whether at the national or at the local levels, is the very nature of the NDF demands. The reforms it was asking in 2018 were basically the same ones it was asking in 1968-69, such as genuine agrarian reform and a nebulous concept of “national industrialization” that would keep all strategic industries in the hands of Filipinos and possibly limit foreign participation in the economy to only a few, thus preventing the country from opening up and benefiting from globalization. The economic and social reforms and the political and electoral reforms being pushed by the NDF today are basically the same demands embodied in the “Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution” drawn up in the late 1960s, except that this time, it wants the ouster of the “US-Duterte regime.”

If national peace talks have been stalled for the nth time for one reason or another, localized peace talks have as much chance of success as a snowball in hell. At the most, localized peace talks will only end the armed hostilities, but not address the poverty issue that lies at the root of rebellion.

But there could be two instances where localized peace talks could actually take place.

If the Reds in a given territory are surrounded by vastly superior government forces and have no chance of making it out alive, then they can very well call for talks between them and local civilian and military officials so they can surrender peacefully.

Yet another scenario is the reverse of the first. The NPA can combine its territorial units and encircle government forces in a particular area and demand peace talks for the government to accede to its demands. But the likelihood of such a scenario taking place is almost nil as even a CPP document back in the 1970s stressed that no area in the country cannot be reached by the military within its enhanced arsenal, including fighter jets and attack helicopters, unlike in China during Mao’s time when his forces could set up so-called Red bases from which they could encircle the cities from the countryside.

Localized peace talks may be good in theory, but untenable—perhaps even utterly useless—in practice.

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