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AMONG the changes the nation is looking forward to as the Duterte administration begins its term is an end to the decades-long rebellion of the New People’s Army (NPA). The outgoing Aquino administration sought to end the Moro conflict in Mindanao with peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but made no effort to reach out to the NPA. Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte has now made peace with the NPA part of his program of action.
President-elect Duterte offered cabinet positions to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its fighting arm the NPA and its political front the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), including the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, now living in exile in Utrecht, Netherlands, said they would make recommendations for the positions.
In an interview the other day, Sison spoke out on one issue that has come up as the June 30 inauguration of President Duterte nears. He said he would not mind having former President Ferdinand Marcos buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, as anyway there are many already buried there who are not heroes or bayani. Duterte had earlier said Marcos, whose remains are now preserved in Ilocos Norte, may finally be buried at the Libingan as he was a soldier who served his country.
There are, however, other, more serious issues that stand between the CPP and the Philippine government that will not be so easily resolved. Last week, the new government’s incoming peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III noted a statement issued by NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili that the NDF will insist that the Philippine government junk the country’s military treaties with the United States – in particular the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
While the Senate in 1991 voted against the continued stay of US bases in the country, the Philippine government has allowed US troops to come under the Visiting Forces Agreement for joint exercises as well as humanitarian projects.
Under EDCA, the most recent agreement last March, US forces were granted access to five Philippine bases. In these bases, the US may erect structures in which to store equipment and supplies for use in joint training exercises, jungle survival, and guerrilla warfare, and to station civilian and military personnel and defense contractors.
Agcaoili said the demand is “non-negotiable,” to which Bello responded, “We will see if we can find a new track of negotiation in which key issues would be discussed….” Duterte himself commented that the Philippines will not rely on the US in dealing with China on their South China Sea dispute, but the Philippines, he said, will remain “an ally of the West.”
Perhaps Sison, who is coming within the next three months, can help find this new track of negotiation and add his voice to all those seeking peace, without taking immovable non-negotiable positions, and willing to explore new areas for possible compromise and eventual agreement.