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Peace talks must be welcomed

ON Monday, April 25, the New People’s Army (NPA) released five Davao police officers, whom they called “prisoners of war,” to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. The mayor got to talk with the commander of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Battalion which had turned over the police officers to him.

After Duterte’s election as president last Monday, May 9, he was congratulated by Jose Ma. Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who is now living in exile in the Netherlands. Duterte, who was once a student of Sison, talked with the CCP leader via Skype on his laptap. Sison, in comments posted on Facebook, called for a resumption of peace talks, a ceasefire, and the release of political prisoners.

A Duterte spokesman said the new president was ready to release ailing and elderly rebels on humanitarian grounds, as well as those the CCP appoints as its peace negotiators after vetting by the military, the police, and government prosecutors.

The Communist insurgency in the Philippines is one of the oldest in the world. The NPA was founded by Bernabe Buscayno alias Commander Dante on March 29, 1969, as the armed wing of the CPP, which had been organized a year earlier. The NPA was designated a terrorist organization by the United States State Department and the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy.

In 2008, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Amnesty Proclamation 1377 for members of the CPP, its armed wing the NPA, and their umbrella organization the National Democratic Front (NDF). Implementing rules and regulations were drafted and the proclamation was sent to Congress for its concurrence. Agreement, however, was never reached in the peace talks and in 2010, the military arrested 43 people attending a community meeting in Morong, Rizal, 38 of whom were later released by President Aquino. In 2011, the NPA attacked three mining companies in Surigao del Norte, allegedly because of their refusal to pay “revolutionary taxes.” In 2014, CCP Chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma were arrested.

Last March 29 – as on all previous anniversaries of the founding of the NPA – the police and the military were on full alert status, as the NPA is known to stage attacks on isolated government outposts and on various installations in the countryside on its anniversary.

President-elect Duterte’s long-standing contacts with Sison and other party leaders, as well as with the NPA men operating near Davao City, has led to expectations that the incoming administration may move to resume the negotiations that had broken down years ago. It has been reported that Sen. Antonio Trillanes, a Duterte critic, warned that some sectors in the military are against such moves, but Duterte’s spokesman said this “remains to be seen.”

Any effort to bring about peace and security in the country is to be welcomed, provided, of course, the basic national interests are upheld. The Aquino government moved last year to make peace with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Duterte government may be expected to renew these efforts not only with the Moro groups but also with the NPA, the other major insurgency in the country today.