Duterte’s Scheme of Fascist Dictatorship

By Prof. Jose Ma. Sison/Telesur

By his pseudo-independent foreign policy, Duterte is trying to turn the Philippines into a condominium of the imperialist powers.

The Negotiating Panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) were poised to hold the fifth round of formal peace talks in Oslo when GRP President Duterte went into a daily series of anti-communist rants from November 18, 2017 onwards and subsequently issued Proclamation 360 to terminate the peace negotiations with the NDFP and Proclamation 374 to designate the Communist of the Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People´s Army (NPA), their suspected supporters and financiers as “terrorist.”

Ironically, the two negotiating panels were about to make the biggest advance in the peace process by finalizing and initialing the drafts of the general amnesty to release all the political prisoners listed by the NDFP, Part I Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and Part II National Industrialization and Economic Development of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and the Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefires (as prelude to a bilateral ceasefire agreement).

The panels expected that within the first quarter of 2018 CASER would be ready for signing by the principals and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) would be negotiated and forged in coordination with the processes of the GRP Congress in revising the 1987 Constitution and possibly arriving at a consensus of all major political forces on what ought to be a federal system of government. But obviously Duterte had all along wished to preempt and exclude the NDFP from what is now coming to light as his scheme of fascist dictatorship under the pretense of federalism.

Duterte had allowed his panel to engage the NDFP panel in back channel consultations in October 2017 in Utrecht and in subpanel bilateral meetings in Manila from September to November 2017 to complete the aforesaid drafts for panel-to-panel processing until he abruptly changed his mind and terminated the peace negotiations. The somersault followed his extended conversations with U.S. President Trump who supposedly assured him of political and military support for a plan to crack down on the CPP and NPA and finish them off before the end of 2018.

Termination of Peace Negotiations Necessary for Duterte Fascist Dictatorship

Although the plan is overambitious and quite impossible to achieve, it is necessary for Duterte to terminate the peace negotiations and slander the CPP and NPA by labeling them as ”terrorists” to pave the way for further extension of martial law in Mindanao for the whole year of 2018 and the eventual nationwide expansion of martial law directed against the CPP and NPA. This is in line with Duterte´s scheme of imposing his fascist dictatorship on the Philippines.

Even before the first extension of the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao could lapse at the end of 2017, Duterte boasted that he had defeated the Dawlah Islamiyah (Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups) in Marawi City and therefore he had basically no more need for martial law in Mindanao. But he found in the extension of the martial law proclamation a device for including the CPP and NPA as targets in a further extension to the whole of 2018 through the expediency of terminating the peace negotiations and accusing the CPP and NPA of escalating violence and endangering public safety.

Duterte was quite confident of getting the further extension of martial law in Mindanao because of his “supermajority” in his rubber-stamp Congress. He also has a steady majority of at least eight of the justices in the Supreme Court (four are his own recent appointees and five are appointees of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) to uphold his martial law proclamation in the same way that they have been able to dismiss the plunder case against Arroyo and allow the burial of Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani due to Duterte´s super-corrupt alliance with the Luzon-based dynasties of Marcos, Arroyo, Estrada and other notorious plunderers..

Duterte is hell-bent on realizing his scheme to reimpose a fascist dictatorship on the Filipino people by revising and in effect scrapping the 1987 Constitution under the pretext of adopting a federal system of government. The trick is similar to that of Marcos in pretending to opt for a parliamentary form of government in order to scrap the 1935 Constitution and install a fascist dictatorship under the cover of transitory provisions.

Federalism As Pretext for Imposing Duterte Fascist Dictatorship on the People

Duterte is not really keen on establishing a federal system of government but on actually installing a highly centralized unitary kind of a presidential dictatorship on top of regional governments run by dynasties, including warlords and the most corrupt bureaucrat capitalists like himself. The big comprador-landlord state servile to foreign monopoly capitalism will  remain intact under his scheme.

To satisfy his appetite for autocratic power, Duterte finds it absolutely necessary to use martial law nationwide in a hysterical and futile attempt to intimidate and suppress the armed revolutionary movement, dissent and opposition in general. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus provides an effective cover and license for abducting, dispossessing, torturing and murdering  revolutionaries and all  people who oppose him. Even now, he cannot wait for a court to approve his designation of the CPP and NPA as “terrorists.” He has repeatedly called on his military minions to kill them upon sight.

The Bicameral Resolution No. 8 with the title “Constituting the Senate and the House of Representatives,” of the 17th Congress, into a “Constituent Assembly by Adopting a Federal Form of Government and for Other Purposes” is already on the rails and will be railroaded when congressional sessions resume in January 2018. Duterte and his cohorts will be the sole determinant of the content of the pseudo-federal charter. The charter is already slated for ratification during the May 18 barangay elections. The Kilusang Pagbabago, the Duterte troll army and the pro-Duterte hacks in print and electronic media are all arranged to rah-rah the ratification.

Even before Duterte is able to get a new constitution for his despotic purposes, the Filipino people have become familiar with his propensity for mass murder and deception in Oplan Tokhang. Combine this with the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus under martial law and you can expect a far bigger catastrophe than the Marcos fascist dictatorship in terms of of murder and mayhem.

In the absence of any revolutionary social transformation,  the country will be getting more of the same ruling families of big compradors, landlords and bureaucrat capitalists at  all levels of government. Corruption will continue to run rampant on top of excessive expenditures for establishing and elaborating on the regional level of government. The U.S. and other multinational firms will continue to plunder and ravage the human and natural resources of the Philippines.

To get the blessings of the U.S. and other imperialist powers, the new pseudo-federal constitution will get rid of the nationality requirements or restrictions on foreign investments in violation of economic sovereignty and national patrimony by simply inserting the phrase, “unless otherwise provided by law.”  Precious limited resources for economic development, at best through centralized and regional planning, will be dissipated by profit remittances and capital repatriation by foreign monopoly firms, bureaucratic corruption and rising bureaucratic and military and police personnel for the central and regional levels of government.

The ever worsening crisis of the semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system will continue to result in the divisiveness of the reactionary classes, the intensification of the anti-imperialist and class struggle, the further rise of the armed revolutionary  movement, dissatisfaction of indigenous peoples and national minorities and  stronger currents of separatism among the Bangsamoro.

 Surpassing Marcos as Best Recruiter and Supplier of the Armed Revolution

Duterte is bound to surpass Marcos as the best recruiter and supply officer of the armed revolution, as the unwitting wrecker of his own regime and ruling system and as provider of an ever more fertile ground for the growth of the people´s democratic revolution through people´s war. However, Duterte does not have as many years left as Marcos had when he imposed fascist dictatorship in 1972.  His aberrant speech and behavior reveal the state of his mental and physical health.

His propensity to monopolize political power and bureaucratic loot  and his ability to run the reactionary government Mafia style will eventually work against him due to his own personal and class infirmities and more importantly due to the systemic crisis and lethal blows from the revolutionary movement and the people. The adverse results of his broken promises will soon bear heavily upon him. The broad masses of the people are already taking him to task for failing to solve the problem of illegal drugs, for destroying the entire Marawi City and for terminating the peace negotiations with the NDFP.

By his pseudo-independent foreign policy, Duterte is trying to turn the Philippines into a condominium of the imperialist powers. He thinks as if he can freely get, without strings attached, military equipment from these powers and limitless loans for limitless infrastructure building to buoy up the economy and keep himself in power. He has in fact allowed China to trample on the sovereign rights of the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He is aggravating the semicolonial status of the Philippines as well as the underdeveloped, agrarian and semifeudal character of the economy.
This kind of economy is ever dependent on the export of cheap raw materials, semimanufactures and cheap labor, on the import of foreign manufactures for consumption and on an ever desperate resort to increasing amounts of foreign loans and speculative capital and to higher taxation to cover trade and budgetary deficits.

The broad masses of the people are angered today by the recently railroaded Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN). This further raises the prices of basic goods and services and generates inflation by increasing indirect taxes (excise, sales and value-added taxes) just to cover tax cuts and tax holidays for the upper classes and fund the counterproductive spending and debt servicing by the state. The rates of unemployment and inflation, though understated in official statistics, are actually causing more poverty and misery on a wider scale.

Contrary to the assurances of his neoliberal economic advisers, Duterte cannot be saved by any increase in the GDP growth rate. The higher the growth rate, the bigger the take of the multinational firms, the big compradors and bureaucrat capitalists and the more severe the conditions of underdevelopment, mass unemployment and poverty afflicting the broad masses of the people. In the final analysis, the big problem for the U.S.-directed Duterte regime is that the oppressed and exploited people have an armed revolutionary movement for undertaking meaningful change in terms of national and social liberation.

Streetwise by Carol P Araullo: AUTHORITARIAN CREEP (pun intended)

When President Rodrigo Duterte says something really outrageous then it backfires or he is proven to be lying or at least dissembling, he uses several tricks to get away with it.

He or his apologists say he was just joking and because we are so gullible, we are asking for it. Or they say he just loves to use hyperbole to stress a point and his listeners should learn to discern when to take his word for it and when not to.

His damage-control crew says he was merely misunderstood and taken out of context. So Duterte modifies his previous statements with qualifiers to make what was patently unacceptable, even illegal and morally reprehensible, pass for a justifiable position or policy pronouncement.

He or his alter egos may simply say the exact opposite of what he previously said, without batting an eye, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for the highest official of the land to make contradictory statements. At one point, Duterte was forced to admit that he manufactured supposed foreign bank accounts of Senator Trillanes, an unmitigated lie that he lamely excused as a “bait” to catch his tormentor.

When all else fails, he and his henchmen resort to bullying, Duterte style.

The president and his copycat officials use abusive and insulting language and character assassination to brutalize their targets into fear and submission. This also works to distract people’s attention and muddle the issues.
He and his subalterns accuse those who point out his inconsistencies, factual errors and even outright falsehoods as being biased or just plain stupid.

Those who criticize Duterte’s “war on drugs” because of wanton human rights violations are either harebrained coddlers of illicit drug users and traffickers or perpetrators of such unsavory activities themselves deserving of the same deadly treatment.

Those wary of the Duterte regime’s use of strong-arm tactics to solve pockets of armed rebellion in Muslim Mindanao and the long-running communist-led armed struggle nationwide, as well as his open admiration for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and complicity in the political rehabilitation of the Marcoses, are labelled either “reds” or “yellows” out to destabilize his regime and ultimately oust him from Malacañang.

Duterte taunted organizers of the huge protest demonstration held last September 21, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of martial law, as either “yellows riding on reds” or “reds riding on yellows”. He then ended up declaring a “National Day of Protest” where he ludicrously claimed he was one with the protesters (against himself?).

Not only did Duterte cancel classes and close government offices to prevent any massing up of students and employees that could be mobilized for the protests that day, local government officials were told to hold a counter rally at Mendiola near Malacañang while rabid pro-Duterte groups held another one at Plaza Miranda. The government-organized rallies were small and anemic compared to the tens of thousands of impassioned demonstrators gathered at Luneta Park and many other cities all over the country.

Duterte’s creeping authoritarianism consisted first and foremost in ensuring the military’s canine loyalty by plying them with funds, perks and privileges, awards and personal visits. He keeps a tight rein on the police forces by a system of rewards and promotions and promised impunity for extrajudicial killings committed in the course of the “war on drugs”.

The overwhelming dominance of Duterte’s henchmen and lapdogs in Congress and in local government units was only a matter of Malacañang paying each opportunist politician’s price for their blind obedience and cooperation.
Duterte has also packed the civilian bureaucracy with retired generals and lower ranking former military men to the extent that he wryly quipped there was actually no need to declare martial law because the military was already very much in control of his government.

Now Duterte is after the remaining pillars of the remaining liberal democratic façade. His business cronies are extending their tentacles onto the mass media even as he threatens with closure those outlets he considers anti-Duterte. His supermajority in the Lower House attempted to emasculate the Commission on Human Rights (chaired by a known ally of former President B.S. Aquino and vocal critic of the “war on drugs”) by giving it a measly budget of 1000 pesos. This craven move was only defeated by a strong public outcry.

Two Supreme Court justices have been the objects of Duterte’s ire. One is Justice Carpio for his sharp criticism of Duterte’s policy of appeasing China by reneging on the assertion of Philippine sovereignty over disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea. Another is Chief Justice Sereno over her being perceived as another “yellow” loyalist what with her speeches critical of the Duterte regime’s lack of adherence to the rule of law. The latter is the subject of an impeachment move and Duterte is slyly utilizing contradictions within the Court to further pressure Sereno.

Most recently, Duterte renewed his verbal attacks against the Office of the Ombudsman, not only because Ombudsman Morales is another “yellow” appointee but her office has acted on the complaint of Senator Trillanes regarding the alleged ill-gotten wealth amassed by Duterte and his two children, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte and Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

Duterte has gone ballistic, threatening to set up a so-called “independent commission” that will investigate alleged corruption in the Ombudsman’s Office.

It now appears that Duterte is not just “onion-skinned” as some critics say, but highly vulnerable to charges of graft and corruption himself. He was able to skirt this issue during the presidential campaign. Now his carefully crafted image as a longtime mayor who was incorruptible and maintained his modest means may be blown apart if he is unable to stop the Ombudsman’s investigations. Even though Duterte may not be charged while in office, the political damage caused by these investigations could impact on the stability of his regime.

Such an outcome could be anybody’s guess but it will take more than Duterte’s bluster this time around to save his fast ebbing credibility. #

(Araullo’s STREETWISE is a regular opinion column in BusinessWorld)

Streetwise by Carol Pagaduan Araullo: Clearing the air

On the eve of the September 21 protests against the Duterte regime, it has become necessary to clear the air of certain misconceptions as well as false judgments against the Left that stand in the way of forging a broad unity across the political spectrum.

To those who denigrate the Left, or more specifically, the national democratic movement, for having given Duterte the benefit of the doubt in his claim to being a Leftist and a socialist despite a checkered record as Davao City mayor, allow me to say this.

There was good reason to do so: Duterte’s solemn promise to release all political prisoners through amnesty; the resumption of peace talks; the appointment of four progressive, competent and upright individuals to the Cabinet; his stance on ending contractualization, upping SSS pension for seniors, land to the tiller, prioritizing public spending on education, health care, and other social services; his openness to dialogue with the Left on various issues; and his pronouncements to pursue an independent foreign policy.

On the other hand, there was also Duterte’s mailed-fist policy on crime and drugs; his sexism; the preponderance of crooks, militarists, neoliberals and pro-US imperialists in his Cabinet; more-of-the-same neoliberal economic policy frame, policies and programs; and not least of all, his alliance with the Marcoses and former President Gloria Arroyo.

The Left decided to gamble on Duterte, to give him time to deliver on his promises and to prove his Leftist leanings. But the leeway that the Left gave to Duterte did not preclude sharply criticizing and vigorously opposing his administration’s anti-people, anti-national policies and programs.

The open democratic mass movement was unrelenting in doing so in several venues — the parliament of the streets, the mass media, the courts and even in the Lower House of Congress where the Left has a miniscule number.

Restraint was shown only by distinguishing between Duterte and the ultrareactionaries in his Cabinet especially his economic managers and the triad of Lorenzana- Año-Esperon. For more than a year no effigies of Duterte were burned at demonstrations. Instead the Left met with him on several occasions to bring up the grievances of urban poor, the lumad of Mindanao, striking workers and land reform beneficiaries.

The armed revolutionaries under the CPP-NPA-NDFP continued to wage people’s war – armed struggle, agrarian revolution, and a shadow people’s government operating in the countryside. While initially expressing willingness to contribute to Duterte’s campaign against drug trafficking by interdicting drug lords, the CPP-NPA declared early on that they would not be a party to the kind of brutal war being waged against hapless drug addicts and small-time drug pushers.

In a short period of time, the true character of Duterte begun to reveal itself.

Duterte veered more and more to the Right: EJKs galore combined with impunity for the police and military perpetrators; all-out war against the CPP-NPA with bombardments and displacement of thousands of peasants and indigenous peoples; a militarist response to the Marawi crisis leading to the city’s destruction, civilian casualties, the exodus of the populace; the extension of martial law in Mindanao; political persecution of critics and oppositionists; attempts to neutralize government institutions that can act as a check to his tyrannical rule; the scuttling of peace talks; kowtowing to China and maintaining a modus vivendi with the US; a humongous budget going to the failed “war on drugs”, counterinsurgency, the president’s intelligence fund and building a grassroots spy network while gutting the budget of the Human Rights Commission; looming mind-boggling corrupt infrastructure deals with the “build,build,build” frenzy; coddling of pork barrel-hungry legislators; cover up of billions worth of smuggling of shabu involving his son and son-in-law; and the list goes on.

Things finally came to a head leading to the NPA’s intensification of armed tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. This year’s State-of-the-Nation protests denounced the US-backed Duterte fascist regime. Duterte’s effigies are being burned without remorse in demonstration after demonstration.

The brazen summary execution by the police of several youths in urban poor communities sparked public outrage. Progressive church organizations and other national democratic mass organizations mounted mass protests, gave succor and sanctuary to victims, their families and witnesses.

The rejection of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano by the Commission on Appointments (CA) manifested Duterte’s utter lack of support for them. He just let the CA do the dirty job of kicking them out.

This was the last straw that led to the decision of the Makabayan Coalition of progressive political parties to bolt from the Supermajority of Duterte allies in the House of Representatives. Nonetheless, even before this move, the Makabayan congresspersons had consistently stood their ground on contentious issues such as martial law, the death penalty, lowering the age of criminal accountability of minors, oppressive tax reform measures, and many, many more.

There are those who want to place the onus of a fully evolved corrupt, puppet and fascist Duterte on the Left. In doing so, they wish to put the Left on the defensive. The charge or innuendo that the Left “enabled” the Duterte regime is patently wrong even if it appears to be a backhanded compliment to the capability of the Left to shape a reactionary ruling regime.

There are those who honestly disagreed with giving Duterte the benefit of the doubt that he could or would go in a progressive direction. Yet they acknowledge the reasons for the Left doing so; recognize the Left’s sustained, principled position on issues; and their never giving up the fight for genuine change. They are not making puerile demands that the Left apologize for having been duped by Duterte and they welcome the Left’s earnest efforts to build a strong and broad opposition against the Duterte regime’s EJKS and rising tyranny.

To the former, we say good luck to your demolition job. To the latter, see you in Luneta on September 21, 4pm. Please wear black, bring an umbrella and your own scathing placards. #

(Streetwise is Dr Carol P Araullo’s regular column at Business World.)

STREETWISE by Carol P Araullo: Justice for Kian, justice for all

The cold-blooded murder of 17-year-old senior high school student, Kian Loyd delos Santos, by Caloocan police, in what President Rodrigo Roa Duterte loudly proclaims as his administration’s unrelenting “war on drugs,” has unleashed a firestorm of protest.

No, Justice Secretary Aguirre, people are not buying your line that Kian’s killing is an “isolated case” that has been “overblown” by the mass media. Coming on the heels of a spate of killings (74 in just 3 days) in “one time, big time” police operations in the slum areas of Bulacan and Manila, Kian’s death is only unique in that CCTV footage and eyewitnesses point unerringly to his merciless beating and execution by policemen in plainclothes.

Neither are they buying the incredible story dished out by the police, without an iota of evidence except their say so, that Kian was a drug courier for his father and uncle. After the fact of his killing in the hands of the police, an alleged drug pusher who claims to have had dealings with Kian is trotted out together with allegations of nonspecific incriminating evidence police investigators discovered, again incredibly, in social media.

Authorities cannot even claim Kian to be the unfortunate but inevitable “collateral damage” of their determined efforts to stamp out the illicit drug trade. Unlike scores of other minors mowed down in Oplan Tokhang and its reinvigorated version, Oplan Double Barrel, who supposedly died in the cross fire, Kian was fatally shot twice in the head, at close range, while prostrate or kneeling, according to official forensic findings.

Yes, oh yes, President Duterte, this one is on you. You egged your police (actually, even your military, but they are too busy with counter-terrorism cum counter-insurgency operations) to “kill, kill, kill” as your administration kept missing your self-imposed deadline for eradicating the drug problem in three months, then six months, and now you admit, maybe not even till the end of your six-year term of office. (Was it just another foot-in-mouth gaffe or were you dead serious when you lauded the Bulacan police for killing 32 drug suspects in 24 hours and called for such a “fine” example to be emulated by the rest of your police forces.)

The more the police killed those who they claim to be in some “drug watch list,” Duterte could unabashedly claim progress, if not success, in his brutal “war on drugs.”

But in light of international criticism of the mounting body count, the police have whittled the official number of police kills down to around 2500, with a similar number being “deaths under investigation” (police speak for killings attributed to vigilantes and/or drug gang rivalry). Nonetheless, mass media and other independent tallies have the running total anywhere between 7000 to more than 10,000.

A system of quotas and rewards for eliminating small-time drug addicts and pushers apparently is in place thus the propensity for periodic raids on urban poor communities to flush them out or to out rightly kill suspects without affording them any kind of due process.

Duterte provided the perfect alibi: the police have the right to employ lethal force in self-defense should a suspect resist arrest or is armed and dangerous. The police picked up the cue from their Commander-in-Chief and so invariably, suspects are reportedly killed in a gun battle with the police, the former initiating the encounter by firing a gun. The police in turn are such sharpshooters no matter the lighting or spatial conditions that suspects always get fatally shot. Or if they are brought into custody alive, they invariably try to grab a police escort’s gun and end up getting killed.

Duterte then promised that with this role play of the police “merely doing their job,” he would protect them from legal prosecution and if convicted, he would pardon them. Such presidential cloak of impunity was proven in the case of Superintendent Marvin Marcos, head of the raiding team that killed alleged drug lord Mayor Rolando Espinosa while in jail. Marcos was reinstated upon Duterte’s direct order to PNP Chief Dela Rosa.

This impunity apparently is also operative in the case of the slaughter by police of the notorious Mayor Parojinog and 14 others, in a shadowy operation to serve a search warrant on a “narcopolitician.” There has been no serious investigation on this case and Chief Inspector Jovie Espenido who led the assault team will likely get a promotion in short order. (He already enjoyed being lionized in the media as someone who got some big fish in the anti-drug war.)

Duterte has been encouraged by the seeming general public approval, if not praise, for his actions. He hit on a nerve — society’s fear of heinous crimes being committed by shabu-crazed addicts or even just neighborhood addicts cum toughies lording it over their unpoliced communities. He had promised to end it swiftly, if brutally.

But only the bad guys were supposed to bear the full brunt of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs” and maybe an acceptable number of “collateral damage.” And even if disturbing evidence of the extrajudicial killings were splashed on television screens, the front page of newspapers and the internet, the public was lulled into thinking that the victims were society’s dregs and were thus dispensable.

Until the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos.

A teenager who had dreams of being a policeman someday. The eldest child of an OFW mother slaving away in Saudi Arabia to support her children and a father tending a small sari-sari store to make ends meet. A grade 11 student who begged the plainclothes policemen who were beating him up to please stop as he had an examination the following day. An ordinary fellow with no record and no reputation in the neighborhood of being involved with illegal drugs in any way. A right-handed person who supposedly shot at the police with his left hand. Whose ordeal was caught on CCTV and seen by several witnesses.

Thus he became Everyman — any poor but struggling parents’ son — minding his own business yet finding himself in the crosshairs of the Duterte regime’s “war on drugs.” This is exemplified in the social media post #IAmKian.

All of a sudden there is widespread outrage and dismay. Kian’s murder has unlocked the Pandora’s box of official deception about the effectiveness of the “war on drugs” and of the official cover-up of the horrible crimes being committed in its name.

The public outcry is simple and straightforward: Stop the killings! Justice for Kian, justice for all! To achieve these demands there is the urgent need to expose the mastermind and make him ultimately accountable. #

(Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two. This article was first published as an opinion piece by BusinessWorld: http://bworldonline.com/justice-kian-justice/)

[Photo by Danny de Guzman / Kodao Productions]

 

STREETWISE by Carol Pagaduan Araullo: No love lost between Duterte and the Left

One need not be such a keen observer of Philippine politics to note the quite dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the Left and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, self-styled “Leftist” and “socialist” president of the Philippines.

At the beginning, a de facto tactical alliance existed between the two. It was premised on Duterte’s promise that he would bring about a real change in government. For the Left, foremost was the release of all political prisoners, peace talks to arrive at fundamental socioeconomic and political reforms, and an independent foreign policy to reverse decades of US neocolonial domination.

A year later, Duterte has reneged on his promise to amnesty all political prisoners and has practically, if not formally, scuttled the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He is brandishing what he thinks is a more formidable “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDFP topped by a martial law declaration in Mindanao, targeting what the AFP claims to be the movement’s strongest base of operations.

For the Left, Duterte has emerged as a full-blown reactionary president, a fascist defender of the exploitative and oppressive status quo, while still trying to deceive the people with token, populist measures and an image of being tough against corruption and criminality.

The signal fire, in retrospect, was when Duterte collapsed the 5th round of GRP-NDFP peace talks saying that he would not pursue negotiations unless the CPP-NPA-NDFP entered into an indefinite bilateral cease-fire. Echoing the hawkish line of his security officials, Duterte said talks can not go anywhere if the NPA continues to launch attacks against the AFP and engages in “criminal extortion” or what the CPP-NPA calls “revolutionary taxation.”

But what supposedly got Duterte’s ire was the directive of the CPP leadership to the NPA to intensify its tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Glossed over is the fact that no cease-fire was in effect at that time because the Duterte government failed to declare a unilateral cease-fire before the 4th round of talks even though the two sides had earlier agreed upon a simultaneous declaration of unilateral cease-fires.

The preconditioning of the peace talks to an open-ended cease-fire before any bilateral agreement on socioeconomic reforms had been reached not only violates previous agreements that the Duterte government affirmed when it revived talks with the NDFP, bottom line is that the GRP wants the revolutionary movement to agree to its voluntary pacification in exchange for nothing. In effect, to surrender on the negotiating table as a prelude to surrendering in the battle field without achieving any meaningful reforms through a supposedly negotiated political settlement.

It appears that the NDFP Negotiating Panel tried its best to salvage the situation by proposing ways of easing pressure on the Duterte government with the onset of the Marawi crisis.

Unfortunately, Duterte quickly swung rightward. He allowed the militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon to lead the way, not only in dealing with the ISIS-inspired Maute rebellion in Lanao province by aerial and artillery bombardment leading to the destruction of Marawi City, but in pursuing the government’s counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, this time utilizing the vast powers of martial law in all of Mindanao to tamp down any opposition.

Flush with the imprimatur given by the Supreme Court to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte railroaded its extension until yearend via a pliant Congress. Independent reporting on the continuing devastation of Marawi City and its after effects is virtually impossible with the military controlling all sources of information. Heightened human rights violations in other parts of Mindanao have been swept under the rug.

The direct involvement of the US Armed Forces in the military campaign against the Maute Group has been welcomed and justified by Duterte despite his posture that he is against US intervention in the country’s internal affairs. (Apparently he was only referring to US criticism of his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign).

His anti-US tirades have softened of late and been replaced with friendly meetings with the US ambassador and US Secretary of State; echoing the US line against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and reports of an agreement to allow armed US drones to strike at ISIS and other “terrorist” targets.

Clearly the ISIS “threat” is being overblown as an excuse to prolong martial law and possibly even expand it outside Mindanao. It is also providing the rational for expanding US military presence in the country and steadily growing US military involvement in armed conflicts labelled as “terrorist”.

Duterte’s attempt to appear conciliatory when he addressed the Left-led SONA protest failed to mollify the protesters who persistently chanted their calls for genuine reforms, an end to martial law, and the continuation of peace talks. Duterte was forced to end his pretense at openness and departed in a huff.

Duterte’s speeches have become consistently virulent against not just the revolutionary Left but also political and social activists who are leading the fight for reforms. He threatened to bomb lumad schools that he said were NPA schools. He said he would not hesitate to use violence against militant urban poor if they again tried to occupy abandoned public housing. He rained invectives on activists and said he would not heed their demands even if they resorted to nonstop protest in the streets.

In response, activists are stepping up their opposition to what they now call the “US-Duterte fascist regime.”

What is interesting is that Duterte has not fired three Leftist Cabinet members despite the downward spiral of relations with the Left. For one he has no basis to kick them out except that they are identified with the Left. For another, they are no threat to him; in fact, one might say they are objectively helping to deodorize his regime by just doing their jobs competently and consistent with their pro-people stand.

Neither have the three tendered their resignations to the wonderment of those who tend to think the Left one-track minded and monolithic. Perhaps this is all that remains of what once was a promising alliance between Duterte and the Left. A tenuous bridge for communications before all hell breaks loose.

(This article first appeared in an opinion column of the same title on BusinessWorld. http://bworldonline.com/no-love-lost-between-duterte-and-the-left/

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.)

carol_araullo@yahoo.com

STREETWISE BY CAROL P. ARAULLO: Unmasking Duterte

These days, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is turning out to be his own worst enemy.

He cannot keep himself from rambling on and on, revealing his bloodlust, megalomania, contempt for objectivity and truth, small-mindedness and bigotry, gullibility for the “intelligence” briefings by the AFP and the propensity for using strong-arm techniques to get his way.

A year ago, at the beginning of Duterte’s presidency, his crassness seemed to be just an idiosyncratic style born of his being an uncouth politician from the boondocks, used to the rough-and-tumble and straight-talking ways of those who are reared in the frontiers of Mindanao.

Many ordinary folk found him engaging, even refreshingly tactless, hence appearing to be honest and sincere.

What was important is that he promised to wipe out the illicit drugs trade in three to six months by means of a bloody “war on drugs”; zero tolerance for graft and corruption; a stop to the practice of “endo” (end-of-contract) that undermined workers’ security of tenure; easing the burden of taxation while spending more on social services for the poor; siding with landless peasants in their fight against the landed oligarchy; an end to the despoilment of the environment through large-scale mining; and to top it all, to release all political prisoners and bring about a negotiated, peaceful settlement of armed conflicts by engaging in peace talks. He also did the unexpected by appointing three avowed Leftists in his Cabinet.

High hopes abounded as well as serious misgivings. The revolutionary and progressive forces on the Left of the political spectrum decided to give Duterte a chance to prove his claims to being the first “Leftist” and “socialist” President.

While long-time mayor of Davao City, traces of his Leftist background surfaced in so far as 1) he acknowledged the CPP-NPA as a political entity born of endemic poverty and oppression; 2) he had a modus vivendi with the CPP-NPA with regard to their de facto existence as a shadow government, including their collection of revolutionary taxes and punitive actions against exploitative and oppressive businesses; 3) he did not consider “all-out war” as the correct or even viable solution to insurgency; 4) he maintained open lines of communication with the CPP-NPA 5) he upheld the human rights of rebels and political activists; 5) he asserted political independence versus US military intrusions in Davao City; 6) he welcomed peace negotiations as a means of resolving armed conflicts by addressing their root causes in unjust socioeconomic and political structures.

A short year later, Duterte is close to fully unfolding towards the Right. Whatever background of activism in his youth has become overwhelmed by the conservatism of his adult years as a politician in the mold of a bureaucrat capitalist until winning the presidency and becoming CEO of the reactionary state.

President Duterte has scuttled peace talks by insisting on an indefinite, bilateral cease-fire even before reaching a comprehensive agreement on socioeconomic reforms (CASER). Duterte not only failed to fulfill his promise to amnesty and release all political prisoners, he continued his regime’s brutal counterinsurgency program including the bombardment of civilian communities suspected to be supportive of the CPP-NPA and the targeted killings of unarmed activists.

He resorts to lies and ad hominem attacks on NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Joma Sison to belittle, insult, and dismiss him as a revolutionary leader. He parrots the worn-out AFP line demonizing the CPP-NPA as terrorists and plain criminals extorting from the people and businesses.

Duterte is in over his head. His conceit is that his overrated stint in Davao City provides him the blueprint for dealing with the complexities of the country’s historical ills. He misrepresents authoritarianism for political will and resort to mass murder and bullying tactics for decisive leadership.

Duterte’s opportunistic alliances with the Marcoses and ex-President Gloria Arroyo, his over dependence on the pro-US, militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon and pandering to the AFP and PNP to preempt a coup attempt by his rivals — all these reveal that he is indeed an ultra-reactionary contrary to his self-delusional pose as a “leftist.”

But as a Marcos wannabe, Duterte lacks sophistication. His expressed intention to bomb lumad schools as a counterinsurgency measure makes him vulnerable to charges of genocide and other war crimes. His demagoguery is repetitive and tiresome. His resort to martial law in Mindanao and the destruction of Marawi City to deal with the disastrous Mamasapano-like police operation against Isnilon Hapilon is a testament to his incompetence and brutality as a commander-in-chief.

Duterte’s “war on drugs” is an unmitigated failure. It’s outcome: an unending body count of alleged small-time drug users and dealers, victims of extrajudicial killing by police and touted vigilantes incited on their murderous killing spree by no less than President Duterte. Impunity reigns with Duterte shielding the police establishment that he once described as “rotten to the core” from investigation by the Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman. A police official, coincidentally surnamed Marcos, who stands accused of murdering a suspected drug lord while in jail has been reinstated and will soon be eligible for promotion upon the specific instruction of no less than President Duterte.

Duterte’s economic policies and programs have not departed from the failed policies of his predecessors in keeping the economy backward and the majority of the people eking out a precarious existence with no stable sources of livelihood or forced to take their chances working overseas. His resort to dole-outs, including one-time subsidies for higher education, is unsustainable. Social services like housing and health care remain unaffordable, of poor quality and inadequate. Whatever economic growth benefits foreign multinationals, their domestic business partners and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Finally, Duterte has maintained his off-and-on diatribe against the US, citing its track record as a brutal colonizer of the Philippines and as an exponent of wars of aggression against sovereign countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. His tirades intensify as criticisms from US quarters of his regime’s bloody war on drugs intensifies and as the US government hedges on the delivery of armaments and other forms of military aid.

But as the US well knows, Duterte is not about to touch any of the lopsided military agreements such as EDCA and the VFA that allows US military presence on Philippine soil and power projection in the Asia Pacific region.

Meanwhile, Duterte’s courtship of China for loans and investments is leading us to debt peonage to a new master and abandonment of our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

The Duterte regime is headed towards complete unmasking and isolation as anti-people unless it drastically changes course. Unfortunately, there are few signs that this can or will happen. # (First published in BusinessWorld, 31 July 2017 / carol_araullo@yahoo.com)

 

Streetwise by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo: Dealing with Duterte

We have been getting “I-told-you-so” and “why-do-you-still-put-up-with-him” reactions from quite a number of well-meaning people here and abroad after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and withdrew the government negotiating panel form the 5th round of peace talks with the NDFP effectively causing its collapse.

As far as they are concerned, President Duterte and his regime are not so much as “unfolding” but more of “unravelling”. Now a quick explanation on the difference between the two as applied to the Duterte phenomenon and as it is currently being used in the Left’s parlance.

“Unfolding” essentially means Duterte can either turn more to the Left or the Right in so far as his policies and actuations depending on several key factors and developments. “Unravelling” means he is what he is – a conventional/traditional politician who has managed to reach the top of the heap and is now the CEO of the reactionary ruling system – ergo he will inevitably reveal himself as such despite his claim that he is “Leftist” and “socialist”.

The implications of whether one leans to the “unfolding” or the “unravelling” scenario is crucial because it informs one’s attitude towards the Duterte regime and how one deals with him.

After Duterte’s one year in office, it is clear that the national democratic movement in the country – ranging from the revolutionaries waging armed struggle to the political activists leading the struggle for basic reforms in the legal arena – have no illusions about the current regime.

Duterte’s rise to power has not made a dent on the semifeudal, semicolonial character of Philippine. The local oligarchy of big landlords, big comprador and bureaucrat capitalists still lord it over society, tightly controlling the levers of power. The country’s former colonizer, the US of A, still dominates and interferes in all spheres of national life – economic, political and cultural. This despite Duterte’s rant spiced with curses against the US and the oligarchy in general (and some specific ones he just can’t abide), and grand promises of socio-economic reforms to benefit the people.

All the statements coming from the Left of the political spectrum on Duterte’s first year are highly critical and on many policies and programs, even denunciatory – martial law; the Marawi siege; the so-called war on drugs; the counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP; political repression of peasants, workers and urban poor fighting for their rights; the continuation of anti-people/pro-elite and anti-national/pro-foreign monopoly capitalist economic policies; US military presence and involvement in internal armed conflicts; persistence of corruption, bad governance, patronage politics and impunity for grievous human rights violations.

But still the Left is giving Duterte some benefit of the doubt mainly because of two major policy changes – the resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP and the appointment of their nominees in three Cabinet positions. This is what is being referred to as significant and concrete evidence of the “unfolding”.

To some this would appear to be self-serving but in reality, there is sound basis for giving weight to these hallmark decisions of President Duterte. If the peace negotiations are to be pursued by both sides in earnest in order to address the underlying roots of armed conflict and thereby arrive at a negotiated settlement on the basis of fundamental socio-economic and political reforms, then we are looking at the dawning of the just and lasting peace our people have been longing for.

In the same vein, the appointment of outstanding and competent leaders from the Left in the Duterte Cabinet is an unprecedented move that is in tandem with his peace initiative. It is a grand confidence-building measure that gives credence to his idea of “inclusivity” in his government. Moreover, given the integrity, commitment and hard work the three Cabinet officials have consistently demonstrated in the last year – they are a boost to the Duterte regime in more ways than one.

Too bad the GRP-NDFP peace talks have been subjected to a lot of delays and now, a major impasse, because of the countervailing pressure of the right-wingers – pro-US militarists and rabid anti-communists – whose idea of the peace negotiations is providing a graceful exit for the surrender and cooptation of the revolutionary movement but without conceding any significant socio-economic and political reforms.

This has translated into the insistence on putting the cart before the horse; that is, getting the NDFP to agree to an interim, bilateral, open-ended ceasefire ahead of inking the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR).

The GRP insists that a bilateral ceasefire complete with terms of reference as to buffer zones, what constitute violations, third party monitoring, etc makes for an “enabling environment” for the peace talks. This goes along with the notion propagated in the mass media by the GRP and so-called peace advocates that ceasefires are sine qua non to peace negotiations between two warring parties.

The NDFP for its part will only enter into a bilateral ceasefire, even an interim one preceding a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF), when the CASER is signed and all political prisoners are released in accord with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The NDFP sees a premature bilateral ceasefire as anathema to the objective of achieving a just peace. They anticipate that the GRP will lose all interest in negotiating, much less implementing, CASER and CAPCR once it gets a bilateral ceasefire. The revolutionary forces are admittedly on the strategic defensive because of the huge disparity between the strength of the Armed Forces of the Philippines versus the New People’s Army. A bilateral ceasefire would put it on the tactical defensive as well, tying the NPA’s hands in terms of defending territory under its shadow governance and protecting the gains of its revolutionary programs in the countryside.

The CPP-NPA-NDFP knows from experience that the GRP will not cease its counterinsurgency operations that wreak havoc on peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities even when short-term, unilateral simultaneous ceasefires are in place as in the 5-month period spanning the resumption up till the third round of peace talks.

Too bad as well that the confirmation of the progressive Cabinet officials, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano and Social Work Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, hang in the balance certainly not because of any charges of corruption, incompetence or partiality but because Duterte’s enlightened policy in dealing with the Left is steadily being undermined as he swings to the Right.

Meanwhile, the Left as a whole is not passively watching Duterte and events unfold. The task of exposing and opposing the anti-people policies of his regime is firmly being carried out. All forms of struggle – armed and unarmed – are being pursued in order to defend and uphold the people’s rights and welfare. Through the peace talks, the progressives in the Duterte Cabinet and most especially the democratic movement of peasants, workers, urban poor and the middle forces in society, the Left continues to engage – unite and struggle as the case may be – the Duterte regime.

It is a complex, difficult and often dangerous approach but must be done if the Left is to seize and maximize all openings for pushing truly meaningful change in this country, with or without Rodrigo Roa Duterte. # (First published in Business World, 3 July 2017)

 

STREETWISE: High stakes confirmation hearing

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
On Wednesday 3 progressive cabinet members — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, Social Welfare Secrtary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano — are up for confirmation by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).
They have been twice bypassed by the CA and subsequently twice reappointed in the interim by President Rodrigo Duterte. But because the current CA has approved a rule that a cabinet member may only be bypassed three times after which the CA will have to reject or confirm the concerned official, it appears that Wednesday will be the final showdown.
The backstory to this is very interesting if only because it is so unusual.  Newly elected President Duterte surprised everyone when, even before he was sworn to office, he offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four Cabinet positions.
Pres. Duterte said the four departments he offered to the CPP – Labor, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, and Environment and Natural Resources – dealt with the “most oppressed” and that the Left was known to be “the most vigilant” when it comes to pressing national issues. He also related his offer to restarting peace talks with the revolutionary movement under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front of the Philipiines (NDFP).
In response, NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the offer but said the CPP could not accept any position not until the peace negotiations had reached the point of a comprehensive peace settlement. In the meantime, Sison said the NDFP could nominate people who are patriotic, progressive, competent, honest, and diligent but not necessarily communists.
Upon the NDFP’s recommendation, Pres. Duterte appointed University of the Philippines Professor and former political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Long-time peasant leader and former Anakpawis Party List representative Rafael Mariano became secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The labor portfolio eventually went to former Justice Secretary Sylvestre Bello III, concurrent head of the government peace panel negotiating with the NDFP, while that of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) went to Gina Lopez, a known environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business clan.
The appointment of Leftists and social activists, including former Gabriela Party List prepresentative Liza Maza to the National Anti-poverty Commission, lent credence to President Duterte’s avowal that he too was a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as this became fodder for accusations of his political enemies that the Duterte administration had betrayed the country to the communists.
Policy differences surfaced when the burial of the so-called remains of the Dictator Marcos was allowed by President Duterte at the Libingan ng mga Bayani setting off a torrent of mass protests wherein victims of martial rule and anti-dictatorship activists from the Left figured prominently.  Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza stood their ground in opposition to the Marcos burial but asserted that this was not sufficient basis for them to resign their posts.
While snide remarks surfaced in social media intimating that the three had sold their souls to the devil, these accusations of cooptation did not gain much traction.  The three have proven to be one of the most hardworking, competent, and upright in the Duterte Cabinet.  They have navigated the perilous course of holding top government positions and being subjected  to myriad pressures and enticements while remaining true to their Leftist principles and continuing to serve their “most oppressed” constituents.
The lines began to be drawn for Sec. Taguiwalo during the budget hearings last year.  Many congresspersons, not least of which were those in the leadership of the House of Representatives, objected to and resented the attempts of the DSWD to ensure that the department’s beneficiaries are those truly in need and not merely “lucky” recipients of patronage politics. A compromise was eventually hammered out: congresspersons’ recommendations would be taken into account and given weight by the DSWD even as the set of qualifications specified by the agency would prevail.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The “honorable” congresspersons wanted ironclad assurances from Sec. Taguiwalo that certain funds they had earmarked for the DSWD would only be spent in their districts in accord with their wishes.  In other words the old pork barrel system was alive and well albeit disguised as an informal arrangement between the head of agency and the “honorable” congresspersons. When Taguiwalo refused to play along, her confirmation in the CA was placed in jeopardy.
As for DAR Secretary Mariano, one of his orders that raised the hackles of his fellow Cabinet members particularly the economic managers, was the DAR proposal for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano wanted to put the breaks on rampant conversion of farmlands for residential, industrial, commercial or mixed-use purposes. Not only has land use conversion been a tried-and-tested way to go around land reform, it has even been used to cover up landgrabbing itself.  But apart from frustrating the ends of social justice as envisioned by a series of failed land reform programs, this proposed moratorium is in line with ensuring the country’s food security what with the rapidly shrinking agricultural land devoted to food production.
Needless to say, the big landowners in the country especially the owners of sprawling haciendas and corporate farms are literally up in arms over Secretary Mariano’s unflinching support for the right of the tillers of the land – tenants and farm workers – to own their own plots of land.  Recent attempts of DAR to install agrarian reform beneficiaries in land awarded but forcibly taken from them have met with armed resistance from private security guards and hired goons. In some instances, the police have averred that they cannot help DAR enforce its orders because they are outnumbered and outfirepowered by private security forces.
DENR Secretary Lopez’ decision last February to close 23 mines and suspend five others for breaching environmental standards together with the cancellation of 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds constituted a declaration of war against large-scale corporate mining in the country.  For this the country’s mining firms banded together to not only oppose her confirmation, but to file corruption charges against her before the Ombudsman.
Too bad Lopez’ anti-mining stance is popular among a public reminded of the horrendous toll on the environment and affected communities from mining accidents and the over-all destructive effects of large-scale mining operations. Moreover her boss, President Duterte, has continued to back her.
For its part, the NDFP recently stated that it views “in very positive terms the presence of (the three) in the Duterte cabinet”.  Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair said, “Ka Paeng will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants. Ka Judy will likewise play an important role in implementing expanded social services for the people. Gina Lopez meanwhile has expressed willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations. They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP.”
The stakes are truly high in the confirmation hearing of the three officials on Wednesday. Will the people’s clamor for meaningful reforms be dealt another serious blow by reactionary interests through their front men in the Commission on Appointments? #
Published in Business World
1 May 2017

STREETWISE: 4TH round of GRP-NDFP peace talks defy spoilers

By Carol P. Araullo

The fourth round of formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) got off to a halting start last April 3, a full day after the scheduled formal opening. For a while, it was unclear whether the talks would open at all or just fizzle out unceremoniously leaving both sides frustratingly empty handed.

In truth, dark clouds remained despite the breakthrough achieved in the March 10-11 informal talks wherein the two sides agreed that the fourth round would resume in The Netherlands and that the simultaneous unilateral ceasefires of the two Parties would be reinstated.

For one, the GRP did not declare anew its unilateral ceasefire in contravention of the GRP-NDFP March 11 Joint Statement. This prompted the NDFP to withhold its own unilateral ceasefire despite a public announcement that it would declare one before the beginning of the fourth round.

Consequently, the GRP principal, President Rodrigo Duterte, announced four conditions for the GRP’s returning to the talks with the NDFP: 1) a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement; 2) that the revolutionary movement desist from claiming any territory; 3) a stop to the collection of “revolutionary taxes”; 4) release of all the soldiers, policemen and others held captive by the New People’s Army (NPA).

A few days before the formal talks, Defense Secretary Lorenzana issued a vitriolic statement labelling the CPP-NPA-NDFP as “terrorists” and declaring ex cathedra (“With the full authority of office”—Ed.) that the talks would not happen unless the NPA complies with Duterte’s conditions.

Only after getting a firm assurance from the NDFP peace panel that an interim joint ceasefire agreement would be in the agenda of the formal talks did Mr. Duterte give the definitive green light to the formal opening. The matter of ceasefire became the de facto primary item on the agenda of the fourth round. An inordinate amount of time and shuttling back and forth between the two sides eventually produced the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire.

What does the agreement amount to? For one, it does not mean that a bilateral ceasefire is already in place. It does not even mandate the two Parties to declare the restoration of their respective unilateral ceasefires. It does however bind them “(to) direct their respective Ceasefire Committees to meet even in-between formal talks to discuss, formulate and finalize the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of this agreement.”

In other words, the Parties agree to forge the interim joint ceasefire in the near future by hammering out the ground rules and guidelines governing the aforesaid ceasefire. But while it is not explicitly stated, the NDFP has made it exceedingly clear that such a bilateral ceasefire can only be signed consequent to or simultaneous with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER). Otherwise, the NDFP fears, with due cause, that the GRP will no longer be impelled to address the root causes of the armed conflict with needed social, economic and political reforms.

As of today, sans a return to the simultaneous unilateral ceasefires, the mode is “talking while fighting”.
But once in place, the interim joint ceasefire is a prospective advance on the previous five-month unilateral ceasefires declared by the two sides. The latter are by nature generally more unstable because of the absence of bilaterally agreed terms of reference like buffer zones and zones of safety, hostile acts and the like; that is, each side can set the parameters for a unilateral ceasefire according to its own political and military imperatives thereby blunting or forestalling possible complaints of violations of the ceasefire.

Concretely, while armed clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA went down drastically, the AFP continued to militarize the countryside. The AFP set up encampments in schools and other civilian infrastructure in the barrios; conducted intelligence and psywar (psychological warfare) operations disguised as “peace and development” operations including anti-illicit drugs and other anti-crime operations; provided security for big mining operations and plantations; as well as penetrated deep into territory where the NPA forces have established a shadow form of government.

The interim joint ceasefire agreement is different from and “shall be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (Final Peace Agreement).” It should therefore not be mistaken for the end point of the peace negotiations.

What of the matter of claimed NDFP territory and revolutionary taxation that President Duterte so roundly denounced as unacceptable? With much flexibility and skillful language engineering by the negotiating panels, the sticky points were relegated for discussion and resolution to negotiations on political and constitutional reforms as “matters of a single governmental authority and taxation” and “within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines”.

All in all the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-economic Reforms (RWC-SER) met and held discussions bilaterally for only a total of some six to seven hours during the four-day formal talks. As validated by unofficial explanations from the GRP side, negotiations on CASER could not substantially proceed whilst an agreement on a joint ceasefire had not been signed. In a manner of speaking, the talks on CASER were effectively preconditioned and held hostage to the inking of a ceasefire agreement acceptable to Mr. Duterte.

Having said that, it is noteworthy that the Parties “firmed up their agreement on distribution of land for free as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.” This achievement is a solidification of the breakthrough reached in the third round of talks in Rome. It was overshadowed and almost went unnoticed due to the resumption of armed hostilities between the AFP and NPA almost immediately with Mr. Duterte’s declaration of “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDF.

They also agreed to speed up the pace of exchanging drafts, identifying contentious points and proposing formulations that are deemed to be acceptable to both Parties. In this regard, bilateral teams under the supervision of their respective RWC-SER are to meet in between formal talks prioritizing Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED). A work schedule was approved in sync with the fifth round of talks slated to take place once more in The Netherlands from May 26 to June 2.

If one were to assess simply and forthrightly what was achieved in the fourth round of talks, it is this: that the GRP-NDFP peace talks have been brought back on track and successfully concluded with positive outcomes despite all the efforts of peace spoilers to sabotage and torpedo them.

As much as the GRP and NDFP panels and their principals, the RNG Third Party Facilitator deserves credit for having exerted extra effort to help bring the Parties back to the negotiating table.

Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum succinctly put it in her opening statement, that the fourth round pushed through as agreed upon last January shows the Parties’ determination and capacity to surmount obstacles, break the short impasse in February and March and move the peace process forward. #
First published in BusinessWorld
10 April 2017

OPINION: Writing as contribution to just and lasting peace

By Carol P. Araullo, Independent Cooperator to the NDFP Negotiating Panel

Response to “Contra en punto” written by Edwin G. Espejo, in reaction to my 17 October 2016 Business World column “Streetwise – Thorny issues emerge in Oslo peace talks

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that Mr. Edwin G. Espejo, a member of the GRP Peace Panel Communications Group, chose to write a riposte to my opinion piece by selecting certain parts which he rebuts rather than crafting a piece to give his or the GRP’s take on the second round of GRP-NDFP peace talks held last October 6 to 9.

Mr. Espejo may have an exaggerated estimate of the reach and influence of my column such that he had to write his attempt at a “contra en punto”.  Since Rappler has given Mr. Espejo the space to ventilate his views specifically geared to counter and debunk my column, I am compelled to respond.

I wish to put on record why I write about the peace talks and what guidelines I follow to keep my commentaries fair, that these do not run counter to the written agreements, and are contributory to the goal of reaching a just and lasting peace.

I am acutely aware of the need to give due respect to the prerogatives of the respective peace panels and the need for a media embargo on what transpires while each round of talks are ongoing. In fact, whatever I write during the actual talks is generally on positive developments or merely to describe the atmosphere without going into detail on contentious points. (The title of my column published 10 October, a day after the close of the formal round of talks, is “Second round of peace talks on track”.)

It is another matter once the round of talks is concluded.  I strive to give my readers, especially those who are not able to observe and participate directly in the peace talks, an insight into how the talks are proceeding. It stands to reason that I will include points of contention. It would be a disservice to keep painting a rosy picture when the differences between the two Parties become more sharply delineated as the talks proceed to the substantive agenda.

I am a nationalist and democrat, a political and social activist, an unabashed Leftist. I have never hidden the fact that my politics are aligned with those of the NDFP.

Having said that, I am also an advocate of a just and lasting peace and of giving the venue of peace negotiations a chance to resolve the roots of armed conflict. I see no inherent conflict between the two.

I have thus been a critic of the completely obstructionist and reactionary viewpoint of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process under Sec. Teresita Deles and the GRP Peace Panel under Atty. Alex Padilla during the Aquino III administration.  On the other hand, I have welcomed and supported the Duterte administration’s bold initiatives in resuming the formal peace talks with the NDFP as well as with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Movement.

Mr. Espejo accuses me of impropriety for allegedly “hurl(ing) some serious issues and criticisms against the government panel…(a)nd in the same breadth (sic) heap(ing) all praises to the NDFP.” I urge the reader to take the time to read my entire opinion piece Thorny issues emerge in Oslo Peace Talks and judge for herself if the accusation has any basis. I contend that the article is objective and fair without pretending to be neutral.

Mr. Espejo appears to be defensive about my observation that “(o)n top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER.”

This observation however is based on fact that is verifiable. As I wrote, the GRP RWC-SER “did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP”.

Mr Espejo’s attempt to explain away this glaring contrast between the two Parties’ preparedness to negotiate on major socio-economic reforms is quite lame. He advances the theory that “the GRP panel are there to receive proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.”  He concludes illogically that the GRP panel is “not duty bound to present its own…”

He quickly acknowledges however that “the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms”.  What he conveniently omits is that several weeks before the second round of talks, the agreement was that there would be an exchange of each side’s respective draft outline and framework. Up until the second round of talks, the GRP RWC-SER had a half page listing of topics while the NDFP submitted a 16-page draft framework and outline.

Mr. Espejo notes, “The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just gestures of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity.”

Let me just inform the reader that those individuals in the NDFP delegation numbering about 60 vs the GRP’s 50 were mainly consultants and resource persons for the NDFP RWC-SER who had been working the week before to finalize and fine tune what the NDFP would present at the 2nd round.  They had also been working on overdrive to finish the NDFP 3rd draft Comprehensive Agreement on SER, giving it more flesh, updating and fine tuning it from the 1998, 2001 and 2004 drafts all of which where made available to the GRP panel and to the public even as the talks had been embroiled in numerous impasses.

Also for the record, the release of the 18 NDFP consultants was a result of hard work by the two sides, the NDFP invoking the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that the Duterte-appointed GRP Peace Panel accepted as valid and binding. The herculean efforts of the NDFP consultants’ lawyers, human rights advocates and an entire slew of supporters here and abroad who kept up the pressure for their release in the name of justice and the peace talks were key.  The NDFP consultants were not, as Mr. Espejo simplistically puts it, “released on bail upon the insistence of the government.”

Mr. Espejo questions my writing an analysis of the ongoing GRP-NDFP peace talks since I am part of the NDFP delegation. Again let me be clear that the NDFP delegation includes resource persons such as myself and many consultants who are not necessarily organic to the NDFP.

As far as I know, the NDFP (and for that matter, the GRP) has not imposed a gag rule on any and all members of the NDFP delegation.  It is up to the individual to exercise responsibility, fairness, objectivity and restraint as is warranted to keep the peace talks going on a productive track.  The text of the bilateral statements and agreements are an objective basis for testing the veracity of any analyses or opinion pieces that anyone may choose to write.

I assume that Mr. Espejo, who is part of the GRP “communications group”, is not writing for himself alone but in behalf of his bosses.  In fact he keeps making reference to “minutes” of the peace negotiations citing them as basis for his “contra en punto”.  In this respect, Mr. Espejo appears to have quite an advantage in being able to cite purported official minutes. He again conveniently omits that he is citing GRP minutes and interpreting them to bolster his arguments that are presumably being made to “communicate” the GRP views and propaganda line.

Lastly, I call the attention of readers to two news reports that show even while the talks were ongoing (in fact, as early as Oct 8)  both the GRP and NDFP panels had issued statements to the media regarding the progress and lack of it with regard to CASER, amnesty and ceasefire. It also appears that it was the GRP who first made public its criticism of or displeasure at the NDFP’s position vis-a-vis said agenda items. <PH-NDF talks hit snags, camps committed> and <Govt-NDFP agree on framework for socio-economic reform>

Thus news reports, mostly citing GRP and NDFP panel members and consultants had already mentioned and described in detail what I later wrote about in my column. Mr. Espejo now vehemently protests, as though I am the first to divulge and comment on what transpired in the second round of talks.

Why did Mr. Espejo, and for that matter OPAPP, not protest these earlier statements and news reports? Could it be because it was the GRP who “drew first blood” so to speak, and that the NDFP was merely issuing rejoinders to clarify?

I seriously urge Mr. Espejo to write a separate opinion article where he will have full leeway to expound on the GRP positions as befits his job description. #