[OPINION] Will local peace talks succeed?

After dissolving its negotiating panel in the peace talks with communist insurgents, the Duterte administration decided to revise its method by applying the so-called Colombian model. Following the said model, several localized peace panels will be created which will facilitate the talks in their respective regions.

These panels, according to Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez, will include representatives from various sectoral groups, local government units, and the military “whose presence are essential to the peace negotiations.” This model perhaps seeks to rectify the civilian-dominated panel headed by Secretary Silvestre Bello III, which has been talking peace with the communists, both formally and informally, for almost 3 years now.

The Colombian model refers to the peace process between the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) and the Colombian government represented by its principal, then-president Jose Manuel Santos. Both parties started their talks in 2012, and despite an initial rejection in a plebiscite, reached a final peace accord in 2016. It was hoped that through the peace accord, the centuries-old armed conflict would finally come to an end.

But the Colombian peace process, far from promising peace, is problematic.

This is how Professor Bruce Bagley, an expert on International Studies of the University of Miami, assessed the current situation and implementation of the Santos-FARC peace accord. Contrary to initial hopes that resulted from the signing of the peace accord, there is in Colombia today a resurgence of guerrilla war.

While the cooperative elements of the FARC group were successfully demobilized and disarmed in July 2017, many of its dissatisfied members and another rebel group, ELN (National Liberation Army), continued to wage armed rebellions. The implementation of the accord itself became problematic as some of its aspects, such as the delivery of services to the demobilized zones and the promise of income subsidies, job creation, and access to land credit to the FARC members, were hardly implemented by the Colombian government. 

The peace accord seems to bypass essential issues – like socio-economic and political reforms – and merely aimed for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. In other words, it hurriedly resolved to silence the guns without thoroughly addressing the roots of dissent and rebellion. 

While the accord included items on political participation, reintegration, and rural development programs, it did not comprehensively address, among others, the issue of development aggression that threaten both indigenous peoples and the environment.

As the head of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia Luis Fernando Arias explained to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “There is a lot of territory in Columbia that multinationals have not reached because of the presence of the FARC.” He continued that “with the FARC gone, [multinationals] come in without those security concerns.”

The threats that accompany the entry of multinational companies could but spark unrest and dissent, if not armed rebellion.

If the Colombian model failed to deliver on the promise of peace in Colombia itself, then it is difficult for the same model to be applied by the Philippine government.

The form of the talks is as important as the problems it claims to address. 

In pursuing these talks, it is presupposed that both parties are determined to eradicate social and economic problems that condition the armed rebellion. The relevant questions which need to be clarified, therefore, are: 

In the end, the talks would only be as effective as the determination of the government, primarily to reverse if not eradicate national policies proven to be detrimental to the socio-economic interests of ordinary Filipinos. 

In countering Jose Maria Sison, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained that the localized form of the peace talks is actually favorable to the communists. Whether this is true or not is not the concern of the hoi polloi. What concerns the ordinary people is that the peace talks result in  significant and relevant economic, social, and political reforms.

In other words, the peace talks should be favorable to the common people who for years have been desiring for societal reforms and social justice. To merely regard which party benefits the most from the form the peace talks will take seems to miss the point and disregard the essence of the talks itself, i.e., the cessation of hostilities through significant socio-economic and political reforms. 

If we are to learn from the Colombian experience, it is that peace is not the mere silencing of the guns. Most importantly, it is the institutionalization of social, economic, and political reforms.

In other words, peace is always based on social justice. – Rappler.com


The author is an assistant professor of philosophy of the University of the Philippines Cebu. He is finishing his doctor of philosophy in philosophy at the University of San Carlos, Cebu City.