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Repercussions feared in peace efforts

THE peace talks with the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) have become the first casualty in the wake of the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao.

The NDF-CPP-NPA peace negotiators were supposed to meet with the Philippine panel for their fifth meeting this week, scheduled in Noordwijk, Ann-see, Netherlands, but when President Duterte proclaimed martial law last Tuesday, the CPP immediately reacted. It ordered the NPA to step up its offensives in the country.

In an equally decisive counter-response, the government, through Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, announced the government would no longer join the fifth round of the negotiations. Dureza thanked the Royal Norwegian government, which had been the facilitator in the previous meetings. There will be no further talks until there is an “enabling environment,” he said.

Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana had tried to save the situation by assuring the CPP that the Mindanao martial law would not target the NPA, as it was meant only to stop the Maute Group, which was linked to the Islamic State. “We will fully comply with the directives of the President that martial law was declared to address radical Islamic terrorists and narco-terrorism in Mindanao,” he said. Evidently, the CPP thought otherwise and saw martial law as equally aimed at them.

There is another possible repercussion of martial law in the government, which has already been raised by some quarters. When President Duterte assumed office, he invited the NDF and the CPP, through his old mentor at Lyceum, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, to nominate some members of his cabinet. Three officials, said to be identified with certain activist organizations in the country, were subsequently named to the cabinet – Secretary Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Secretary Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian Reform, and Liza Masa of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

Taguiwalo and Mariano were among those bypassed by the Commission on Appointments when it recently adjourned with Congress, allegedly for lack of time to properly assess their qualifications. This was on the same day the commission approved the appointment of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in a matter of minutes.

The bypassed cabinet members have thus far done well, although they have their critics. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV charged the other day that Mariano and Taguiwalo have been using their positions to further the cause of the CPP.

The Duterte administration has made great advances in restoring peace in troubled areas in the country. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front have been generally quiet in anticipation of the establishment of autonomous regions under a federal system of government. Peace with the CPP-NPA was seen on the horizon, with the initiatives taken by the new administration.

We continue to hope that the ongoing difficulties will eventually be overcome and the differences resolved, so that so much of the violence in the countryside, particularly the 47-year-old NPA rebellion, will finally come to an end.