Duterte bats for 'strategic shift' in ending war with Reds

DINNER WITH THE LEFT. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with leftist members of his Cabinet on February 20, 2017, in Malacau00f1ang. Beside him is Anti-Poverty Commissioner Liza Maza. Photo courtesy of Malacau00f1ang

DINNER WITH THE LEFT. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with leftist members of his Cabinet on February 20, 2017, in Malacau00f1ang. Beside him is Anti-Poverty Commissioner Liza Maza.

Photo courtesy of Malacau00f1ang

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte is working to change strategy in his effort to resolve Asia's longest-running communist insurgency, according to chief presidential peace adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza in a statement on Tuesday, February 21.

Duterte met with 3 leftist Cabinet members on Monday night, February 20, to discuss the breakdown of talks with communist rebels. The dinner meeting lasted about two hours, according to a source.

"He gave specific instructions on how to deal with the present situation including the possible next steps following the cancellation of peace talks and the unilateral ceasefire declarations. He lamented that the almost 50-year-old insurgency and conflict still continue to this day and vowed to work for a strategic shift during his incumbency," Dureza said in the statement. 

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, and National Anti-Poverty Commission chief Liza Maza were nominated to the Cabinet by the National Democratic Front (NDF), which represents communist rebels in talks with the government. 

Dureza and government chief negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III were also in the dinner meeting.  

Peace during Duterte's term

Dureza did not elaborate on the President's instructions, but Taguiwalo said she was encouraged by Duterte's pronouncements that he wants peace with the rebels during his term.

"We need to continue talks on the negotiating table. Doon naman, nag-agree ang President. Kailangan may pag-uusap. Kailangan ng kapayapaan. Kung paano ito, kailan ito, kung saan ito, hindi na kami kasama doon dahil hindi naman kami miyembro ng negotiating panel," Taguiwalo said in an interview on Tuesday. 

(We need to continue talks on the negotiating table. The President agreed. There has to be a dialogue. There has to be peace. How this is going to happen, when and where, we don't really know because we're not members of the negotiating panel.)

When pressed about the resumption of "formal" talks, Taguiwalo said she could not say. "Wala akong masasabing ganoong announcement. Ang President at Secretary Jess Dureza ang pwedeng mag-announce. Ang mahalaga hindi sarado," she said.

(I can't make such an announcement. Only the President and Secretary Jess Dureza can announce that. What's important is that it remains a possibility.)

Taguiwalo said they also discussed the accomplishments of the 3rd round of talks in Rome in January, believed to be the first time that the government panel briefed Duterte on the subject. 

Taguiwalo: No conditions in resuming talks

Dureza did not discuss in his statement the demands that Malacañang issued to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Monday afternoon, just hours before the dinner meeting, in order to resume the talks.

Taguiwalo said it was clarified during the dinner meeting that Duterte is not imposing conditions.

"Wala siyang condition na nilabas. Nilinaw kahapon na walang condition doon sa usapan. At wala naman kami sa position kasi hindi naman kami member ng negotiating panel," Taguiwalo said.

(He did not issue conditions. It was clarified yesterday that there are no conditions to the talks. And we are not in the position because we are not members of the negotiating panel.)

In a statement on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the CPP must agree to a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will put an end to the rebel group's collection of revolutionary taxes. While the military calls the practice of the New People's Army (NPA) "extortion," the communist rebels are justifying it as a legitimate function of the revolutionary government.

Asia's longest-running communist insurgency

Talks with the NDF seek to institute radical reforms in the country's socioeconomic policies in hopes of addressing the root causes of the armed struggle. The NDF called on Duterte to resume the talks and not waste the gains in the 3 rounds of talks held in Europe.

Optimism was high when talks formally resumed in August 2016. The military and the NPA issued unilateral ceasefire declarations that resulted in a 5-month-long peace, the longest ceasefire in the history of the nearly 50-year conflict. 

But the situation on the ground was growing untenable with both camps accusing the other of ceasefire abuses. The NPA declared on February 1 it was terminating its ceasefire and Duterte responded by scrapping the talks altogether. 

The military has since launched at least 30 operations against the NPA. Both sides are accusing each other of human rights violations. 

Federalism and other peace tables

Dureza said Duterte also discussed with the Cabinet members his plans with the other peace tables – the Bangsamoro and Cordilleran peace talks.

Dureza said all these peace efforts will help in pushing for Duterte's campaign to shift the Philippines into a federal system of government.

On Friday, February 24, Duterte will lead a program in his hometown Davao City to launch the "renewed" effort to implement the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB), the final peace deal signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

Duterte has created the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that will draft the law that will create and assign more powers to the new Bangsamoro region to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Dureza said the President also supports aspirations for autonomy in the Cordillera.

"The President instructed that all these different tracks must gather inputs from the different stakeholders to make the reform agenda inclusive that must eventually lead to the final goal of installing a federal system throughout the country," Dureza said. – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.

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