After a promising start to the peace process, the lack of trust between the government and the communist rebels has shattered the hope of ending decades of guerrilla warfare. The stage is set for an all-out offensive against each other.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called off the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The CPP controls the armed New People’s Army (NPA).
Duterte expressed anger over the NPA killings and the desecration of three government soldiers Bukidnon. This was after the communist group terminated the unilateral ceasefire it declared in August 2016. The communist group also wants the government to release its 400 political prisoners while peace talks are ongoing.
Duterte said, “I have surrendered too much too soon. Now they want 400 released? My God, that is releasing all. It is as if I have granted amnesty already.”
Last year, he boasted that the communists would die for him. He prides himself as the first left-leaning president of the country. Duterte won on a platform of peace and order in which one of the aims is to end the 47-year-old insurgency with the communist rebels. This breaking down of the peace talks is a huge setback, one to which his detractors will delight in. Critics will also argue that his government is in shambles now that his war on drugs has come to a halt because of a corrupt police force.
It seems Duterte has overestimated his influence with the communist group. They did not reciprocate Duterte’s gesture of faith to release NDFP consultants for the peace talks. He has resigned to the country’s fate that there will be no peace with the communists.
According to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the NPA actively recruited new members during the unilateral ceasefires declared by the CCP and the government. They lost their ideals and are happy to extort revolutionary taxes from businesses in Mindanao.
The NPA has survived the attacks of the previous administrations, and it is unlikely it will be any different under Duterte’s command for an “all-out-war” against the NPA. NDFP peace panel chair Fidel Agcaoili said, “As before, we shall weather Lorenzana’s declaration and gain strength.”
The communist rebels will also be watching the warming ties between the Philippines and China carefully. The CPP said that Duterte should be cautious with forging closer relations with China as it has its imperialist self-interest in forming a relationship with the Philippines.
There is still a chance they will return to peace talks during the remaining term of Duterte. There will always be that lingering doubt on whether the ageing communist negotiators long separated from the battlefield still, have the full authority to permanently order the NPA rebels to drop their arms for good.