wrapping up the anti bio of national artist ishmael bernal, trying very hard not to be distracted by president rodrigo duterte’s mind-blowing first days in office, but happening to catch the new prez addressing the armed forces and talking about joma sison like he was the nicest man in the world! that calls for a blogbreak. joma and ishmael were classmates in UP diliman in the late fifties, and when ishma was claimed by the communist party when he died, his sosyal showbiz friends were so scandalized.
anyway, ishma always thought it was crazy of joma to continue leading a revolution long-distance via the internet, sana umuwi na lang siya. oo nga naman. so it was good news that joma was talking of coming home for peace talks, basta may ceasefire at palalayain ang political prisoners. ‘yun nga lang, joma’s CCP and NPA are on the US state department’s list of terrrorist orgs, and so medyo tagilid, delikado, nanganganib ang pag-uwi unless the president can prevail upon the US to give peace a chance, hope springs eternal.
meanwhile, this piece on the history of the peace talks initiated by FVR in 1992 is essential reading.
Goodby again, this time for good
Paulynn P. Sicam
I’ve said goodbye to government work four times. The first was in 1994 when I retired from the Commission on Human Rights. Working in government was not at all on my radar screen, but when President Cory Aquino called to ask me to fill a vacancy at the CHR, I could not refuse. I was too invested in the struggle for freedom and her presidency to say no.
It was alternately frustrating and satisfying being a human rights commissioner. The cases we handled were horrifying and plentiful, but my work was in human rights education and I felt we made real progress inculcating human rights values in the military and police officers we trained. My group had developed a human rights training module that was interactive and personal, and had caught the attention of other human rights educators, including UNESCO, which gave it a prize in 1994.
Before long, I was back in government. Peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines represented by the National Democratic Front were brewing and I was asked to be a consultant to the Philippine panel led by the venerable Ambassador Howard Dee. It was hard work, requiring much discussion, thought and analysis. There I learned that universal concepts such as national sovereignty, democracy and social justice, confidence building measures and safety and immunity guarantees, do not necessarily mean the same on different sides of the peace table.
The much-anticipated formal talks opened in Brussels in June 1995, only to collapse the following day when the NDF refused to show up for the next session until we brought to Brussels their comrade who had been arrested. It would be the first in a series of impasses and adjournments on the issue of release of detained communist leaders that would render the peace talks inutile and fruitless for the next 20 years.
Although the talks proceeded and many documents were signed, it was merely a game of basketball where all we could do was dribble, per President Ramos’ order, to keep the talks going. The strategy suited the Communists well. When the process began in 1992, the CPP-NPA was in deep trouble. It had killed off hundreds of its own people in massive internal purges, and many of its intellectuals had either quit or were expelled for disagreeing with Joma Sison on matters of strategy and ideology. By the end of the Ramos presidency, the Party had rebuilt itself, thanks to the free movement of its leaders made possible by safety and immunity guarantees given them by government.
President Arroyo was chummy with Bayan Muna, the leftist party list, and she promptly re-opened peace talks after Estrada resigned and she took over Malacañang. But after two years, the table was in trouble. The EU and the US had issued separate terrorist lists that included the CPP-NPA and Joma Sison himself. When government refused to intervene, the NDF panel walked out of the talks.
A new panel was organized in 2005 and I was invited to be one of three women in a group of five to try and re-open talks with the NDF. But after several exploratory meetings in Oslo and actual agreement to re-open talks, the same issues festered: terrorist listing and the release of jailed CPP-NPA leaders. By the time President Noynoy Aquino took over, the talks had been on a seven-year impasse.
I was relieved to leave government and the intractable peace process, but in 2011, I was again invited to join the technical committee of the new panel, this time for my so-called “institutional memory.” Although the talks began with a lot of goodwill among friends who had fought against the dictatorship together, it quickly deteriorated into another impasse, on the same issue that the Communists have always insisted on — the release of their jailed leaders. As they did with every panel, the NDF declared that they would just wait for a more open, friendlier government to resume talks with.
They seem to have hit pay dirt with President Duterte who calls himself a leftist, a socialist, and a friend of the CPP-NPA. It is looking like the party will finally get its way: the impending release of their jailed leaders, appointments to key Cabinet posts, and virtual clearance from the president to continue “taxing” corporations and ordinary citizens in exchange for leaving them alone.
I leave the peace process for good with mixed emotions. Several generations of negotiators, including members of the present team, have tried to build on past friendships and common histories to reach a peace agreement with the CPP-NPA-NDF, to no avail. After dealing with the NDF for 22 years, I am convinced that to the communists, the peace process is a one-way street that they are on only to get as many concessions as they can from government without conceding anything in return — until they reach their goal either of a coalition government or total political victory over our constitutional government.
I truly wish the Duterte government and its recycled peace negotiators better success in dealing with the CPP-NPA’s tired old scheme.