PASIG CITY (27 DECEMBER 2019)— Local peace engagements (LPEs) being carried out throughout the country under the Duterte Administration’s Whole-of-Nation Approach have proven to be highly effective in achieving enduring peace, social justice, and development.

Through LPEs, the government is demonstrating its strong resolve and decisiveness to put an end to the local communist armed conflict by directly addressing the roots of the armed rebellion and involving all national and local government agencies together with key stakeholders – including the rebels themselves.

Operationalized through Executive Order No. 70, the Whole-of-Nation Approach has likewise emphasized the need for greater synergy in the delivery of much-needed government services to remote, underdeveloped, conflict-affected areas across the nation to improve the general welfare and well-being of the people. 

In light of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s recent ceasefire declaration with the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army/ National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), there are those who believe the truce will sustain the gains achieved through the LPEs.

 “We support President Duterte’s wish to ensure a peaceful holiday season for Filipinos and particularly all the combatants. May this act of goodwill be considered by the other side as a step towards finally putting an end to the armed violence,” Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said in a statement.

Galvez, however, urged everyone to exercise caution in negotiating peace with the rebels. He recalled incidents in the past when ceasefires where blatantly violated and exploited by the left in order to push forward their agenda.

“As peace talks were being held at the national level, attacks were being carried out by the rebels. In short, there have already been precedents. We have to be prepared and make sure that such incidents are prevented at all costs,” Galvez said.

The former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff has joined a chorus of officials who feel that the resumption of peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF may put the latter at a disadvantage. 

Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio cautioned the Duterte Administration to always keep its guard up and learn from the lessons of the past, especially how the rebels have openly cast aside several ceasefire agreements as they launched attacks on government forces.   

“Why the past peace negotiations sorely failed could only be blamed on the countless criminal acts and treachery of NDFP-CPP-NPA — displayed even during times when ceasefires were supposed to be in place,” Duterte-Carpio said in a statement. 

 “As spoilers of peace, we believe that the Christmas truce will be used by the terrorist groups as an opportunity to regain communities previously cleared of their presence, consolidate their forces, and derail the progress of existing government rural development projects,” she noted.

Direct approach

Galvez, who is the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) in Region 3, has seen up close how LPEs have been instrumental in dealing with the communist insurgents, particularly those operating in the countryside. 

He explained the CORDS mechanism was established to ensure the efficient implementation of the Whole-of-Nation Approach, particularly those interventions which require greater cooperation between national government agencies and local government units. 

“The LPE approach directly addresses the needs of people and communities and prevents them from being exploited by the insurgents. The government provides basic services, livelihood, and security, among others, as a means of capacitating them,” Galvez said.  

In Mindanao, the conduct of LPEs has resulted in the mass surrender of members of the CPP-NPA Southern, Northeastern, and Western Mindanao Regional Party Committees operating in Regions IX, X, XI and CARAGA. 

Through the efforts of local chief executives, the Regional Task Force – Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) IX, and the CPP-NPA’s Western Committee, the parties forged an agreement in which they committed to jointly carry out socio-economic programs and projects in their communities.

Moreover, LPEs have enabled the parties to utilize non-traditional measures in convincing members of the rebel group to give up armed struggle and return to mainstream society as peaceful and productive civilians.

LPEs are anchored on the concept of Normalization which include the transformation of armed fighters to peaceful civilians; the delivery of socio-economic programs to the affected communities; the provision of possible amnesty programs; and the healing process among the former rebels and victims of armed conflict.

However, the main strength of these LPEs lie in their ability to bring all the government agencies and key stakeholders together – which is the heart and soul of E0 70 – and providing them an opportunity to contribute in peacebuilding by acting as agents of peace, understanding and solidarity in their communities.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate’s National Defense and Security Committee, agrees that LPEs have a better chance of resolving the communist insurgency than talks being held at the national level. 

“The latest attack on our soldiers by NPA rebels despite the ceasefire simply means that they don’t listen to Joma Sison anymore. Either that, or he cannot and should not be trusted. Localizing the peace talks is still the better way, I think,” Lacson recently posted on his Twitter account.

Season of peace

In Masbate, 306 members of the CPP-NPA have returned to the folds of the law during the party’s 51st founding anniversary on December 26, 2019. 

 Of the 306 returnees, 47 were regular NPA cadres, 150 were Milisyang Bayan members, 51 were Sangay ng Partido sa Lokalidad (SPL) officers and members, and 58 were active supporters of the communist group.

The Masbate group also surrendered forty-nine different firearms which included six M16 rifles, one carbine, two KG9 sub-machine guns, one Ingram and other pistols, and three improvised explosive devices (IEDs). 

On the same day, three NPA members also surrendered in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, along with two AK-47s and an M-16 rifle. 

With these current developments in the peace and security front, Galvez is optimistic that the long-running communist rebellion is coming to an imminent end. 

“We welcome the resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF as long as it will end the armed conflict. Our collective goal is bring enduring and long-lasting peace to our country,” he said.  

“It should lead to the cessation of CPP-NPA ambuscades and other acts of violence, extortion activities, liquidation, and finally, in the decommissioning and normalization of NPA combatants,” Galvez added.

One-on-One-talk between PRRD and Sison pushed

Malacanang has urged CPP founder Jose Maria Sison to have a “one-on-one” meeting with President Duterte in order to “forge a lasting peace agreement” between the government and the rebel group, according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

Panelo, however, said that “his (Sison) refusal to have a personal dialogue with his former student in the Philippines betrays his insincerity.”

“His decade-long comfortable and luxurious self-exile in Europe has placed blinders in his eyes hence he could not see the transformation of society initiated and propelled by the strong-willed leadership of the former Mayor of Davao City,” he added.   

“Foreign financial organizations foresee the Philippines as the fastest growing economy in the Asia-Pacific in 2020. Employment in the country has been on a 14-year high. High inflation is now a thing of the past. Almost six million Filipinos have been lifted out of poverty,” Panelo said.

Government economic managers had projected during the early part of this year that the Philippine economy would expand within the range of 6 to 6.5 percent in 2019.

“Sison does not have the courage to risk losing the comforts he is enjoying abroad, as many NPAs are dying from extreme fatigue, sickness and in combat in the battlefield,” Galvez said. 

“Mr Sison is not an authentic warrior and leader, but rather a deceptive and scheming master propagandist.  He tells more lies and prefers to shade the truth,” he added.

‘Last chance’ 

 Meanwhile, Galvez pointed out that Under the Duterte Administration, more than 100,000 hectares of land have been distributed to Filipinos, which reflects the government’s desire to uplift the well-being of the people.

According to Galvez, the most recent land distribution was done in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in which more than 1,800 hectares were distributed by the Department of Agrarian Reform  to former Moro Islamic Liberation combatants.

He said the Duterte Administration is aggressively carrying out development interventions across the country, particularly in conflict-affected areas. The government’s recent “excellent” approval rating is a testament of its impressive performance in the socioeconomic front. 

As a result, Galvez said, more than eleven thousand members of the CPP-NPA as well as members of other terror groups have laid down their arms and have returned to mainstream society as peaceful and productive civilians. 

 He said that it is a widely acknowledged fact that areas where the CPP-NPA continue to operate have remained poor and underdeveloped.

“This is their last chance. When I say  ‘last chance’, my time is running out,” President Duterte has said.###