July 23, 2009

Peace overtures

I was tempted to submit a column for the week with the title “Arroyo’s SONA accomplishments” followed by a blank space but quickly realized I didn’t have the advantage of youthful irony to get away with the trick. More importantly, that would be a waste of valuable column inches just to underscore the obvious.

A worthwhile subject matter is the announcement, made separately by the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, that their formal peace talks will resume next month. Both sides appear to be gung-ho about taking another stab at a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict.

For the Arroyo regime, this appears to be such a turn-around in its “all-out war” policy against the communist-led armed movement. It seems antithetical to Malacanang’s declared objective of decisively defeating the revolutionary group by the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term in 2010. All prior attempts of the Norwegian government, acting as Third Party facilitator, to reopen the talks have been torpedoed by government’s intransigence over its demand for an indefinite ceasefire. What gives?

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been trying mightily to deliver on its promise to decimate what government considers the number one “security threat” to the republic. But as the deadline draws near the press statements have become more guarded about the likelihood of success.

Military spokespersons have started to say that a home-grown insurgency such as that being waged by the New People’s Army, with its roots in poverty and injustice, cannot be stamped out by military might alone. What they don’t admit is that even the ongoing “dirty war” marked by extrajudicial killings and other state terror tactics against unarmed activists and civilian populations have not achieved the same end either.

The bogus Commander-in-Chief’s commitment of billions of VAT-generated pesos into the counter-insurgency effort along with the boost in US military aid in the wake of President Bush’s declared “war on terror” have not produced any prospect of victory over the CPP-NPA in the remaining ten months to government’s self-imposed deadline.

Perhaps that is one major reason for this unexpected dovish approach of the Arroyo government, erstwhile dominated by the voices of the hawks, warmongers and rabid anti-communists. Indeed, failure can be covered up and made to appear as enlightened policy.

What makes such a failure more politically costly is the bloody record of human rights violations that has become the hallmark of the Arroyo regime and has made it a pariah in the international human rights community. Amnesty International, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings and a host of other independent human rights bodies have rightfully pointed to the government’s hardline policy against the decades-old revolutionary movement as the underlying reason for the unacceptable and condemnable rise in human rights violations during Mrs. Arroyo’s nine-year watch.

An apparent softening of the regime’s mindset and policy with the scheduled resumption of the formal peace talks may neutralize the political fall-out especially in the international arena.

Together with the recent abolition of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), the government arm created specifically to file trumped-up cases against NDFP consultants and staff members as well as progressive personalities and activists on the left of the political spectrum, the reopening of the peace talks is indeed a welcome development.

Nonetheless, many sectors are wary and distrustful in the light of continuing extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests and fabricated charges against the Arroyo regime’s critics, oppositionists and dissidents.

Moreover, the nefarious machinations and maneuvers of the Arroyo cabal to retain power beyond 2010 including convening an illegal Constituent Assembly to ram through Charter amendments and stage managing a political scenario (complete with alleged terrorist bombings) to justify the imposition of emergency rule, do not auger well for any kind of peaceful transition to a new government much less a negotiated peace settlement with committed revolutionaries.

It must be remembered that the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP cover four substantive agenda: human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and cessation of hostilities/disposition of forces. The peace overtures of the Arroyo regime amount to little while it persists in the very same anti-people policies and programs that the revolutionary movement and the people have been fighting against.

Peace advocates everywhere, especially those whose concept of genuine peace is that of a just peace, must support and encourage any openings in the peaceful path towards resolving armed conflict, no matter how narrow and small. But more important is to work for those conditions that will bring about a just peace, i.e. constantly struggling to achieve substantial reforms in all aspects of government and society in order to extirpate the root causes of social unrest and revolution.

In the end, it is not the sincerity or trustworthiness of the Arroyo government that matters but the strength of the people’s movement for meaningful change. #


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