PASIG CITY (31 January 2022) — The Philippine government is batting for the continued implementation of localized peace engagement (LPE), as this is the most effective approach in addressing the decades-long communist insurgency in the country.

Speaking during the virtual press briefing of the NTF-ELCAC entitled ‘Tagged: Debunking Lies by Telling The Truth’ on Monday, Atty. Wilben M. Mayor, Assistant Secretary, Chief-of-Staff and Spokesperon of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU), stressed that LPE has already proven its effectiveness in the past, as previous administrations have used this method to talk peace with rebel groups have gained positive results.

“LPE has already been adopted and implemented by previous administrations, and enhanced during President Duterte’s term,” Mayor said.

“[Previous administrations] were able to strike peace deals with the CBA-CPLA (Cordillera Bodong Administration – Cordillera People’s Liberation Army) and RPM-P/RPA/ABB Rebolusyonaryong Partido Manggagawa-Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade-Tabara Paduano Group) or Kapatiran through localized peace dialogues. This produced concrete results and we intend to replicate this success in our peacebuilding efforts,” he added.

Mayor also called on the next administration to sustain and build upon the gains of LPE in dealing with the insurgency problem.

“Ang OPAPRU, sa ating experience, ang aming recommendation sa next administration ay i-sustain nila ang gains of peace na nakita at na-experience natin,” Mayor said.

“Batid namin na ang bawat pinuno ay may kanya-kanyang direksyon at polisiya, pero para sa amin, nakita na natin ang mga produkto at resulta ng LPE,” he added.

LPE vs national peace talks

The government shifted its approach in negotiating peace with the CPP-NPA-NDF from the national to the local level due to the insincerity and lack of commitment on the part of the rebel group.

“This approach (LPE) addresses the disconnect between the leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDF and their members who remain on the ground,” Mayor explained.

“OPAPRU believes that LPE is the most effective way of talking peace. Through this approach, local government units and members of the community can directly address the roots of the insurgency, thus preventing the communities from being exploited by the insurgents,” he added.

Major General Edgardo De Leon, Commander of the 8th Infantry “Stormtrooper” Division of the Philippine Army, echoed Mayor’s position and vouched for the effectiveness of LPE in dealing with the insurgents.

“Bakit localized? Kasi kung localized ang peace engagements, immediately may resulta. Walang humaharang sa national, walang kung ano-anong kondisyones, naibibigay agad ng gobyerno [ang tulong],” De Leon said.

“Natutugunan agad ng gobyerno ‘yung mga hinaing na nagiging dahilan ng pagrerebelde o pagkagalit ng mamamayan laban sa gobyerno,” he added.

Tangible results

LPE is one of the 12 lines of effort under the NTF-ELCAC which was created through Executive Order No. 70 signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s in 2018.

EO 70 mandated a whole-of-nation, whole-of-society approach in addressing the root causes of the communist insurgency.

Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity Carlito G. Galvez Jr. earlier said that LPE is more effective compared to national-level peace talks that have been utilized by previous administrations.

LPE has two two tracks, which include community consultations and problem-solving sessions, and local peace dialogues with the communist terrorist group (CTG).

During the same press briefing, Department of Interior and Local Government Director Rene Valera explained the measures being undertaken by the government under the first track, particularly the Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP).

Valera said RCSP is part of the whole-of-nation approach to address issues in conflict-affected and conflict-vulnerable communities by closing the gap between governance and development.

RCSP has five phases which include orientation and empowerment of local government units, identification of governance gaps and needed interventions, implementation of projects, programs and activities, and monitoring and evaluation.

“Dito natin pinagsama-sama ang mga apektadong sektor, mga barangay na sinakop ng mga kapatid nating nawala sa landas, at ang gobyerno para pag-usapan at pag-isahin ang efforts natin para sa peace and inclusive development sa komunidad,” Valera explained.

He added that the government has conducted RCSP in 1,394 barangays in 2020 and 1,406 barangays last year.

“Itong mga barangay na ito, ito ‘yung cleared na ng AFP at PNP through their community support programs. Ngayong taon, meron tayong 953 barangays na mag-uundergo ng same process sa RCSP,” Valera said.

Based on consultations with barangays, Valera said that the most common problems identified by residents were accessibility [farm-to-market roads], low farm output prices, lack of farm implements/equipment, dearth in agricultural training/skills enhancement for farmers, lack of drying and milling centers, and low farm worker wages, among others.

“Pagdating sa issues, nagbibigay din ang ating gobyerno sa pangunguna ng NTF-ELCAC, ng mga programa tulad ng Support to Barangay Development Programs,” Valera said.

“Last year, meron tayong 2,318 na proyekto at meron na tayong nagawa na 107 na nakumpleto. Mayroon tayong infrastructures at non-infrastructure projects na mga kasagutan sa training skills at ibang issue na nakalap natin sa nakalipas na dalawang taon,” he added.

Meanwhile, for the second LPE track which involves localized peace dialogues with the CTG, De Leon said they employ two key strategies in reaching out to the insurgents.

One is through formal negotiations, and the other one is through direct negotiations with a CTG member who wants to avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program or ECLIP.

ECLIP is a government program which aims to help rebels reintegrate into mainstream society, and provide them with the necessary assistance that would enable them to live as peaceful and productive members of their communities.

During the Duterte administration, the OPAPRU, together with DILG as its co-lead agency for LPE, conducted 23 local peace dialogues with the CTG in different parts of the country including Aurora, Bataan, Ilocos Sur, Davao Oriental, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Zamboanga del Norte.

Call to action

Mayor assured CTG members who want to return to the fold of the law that they will be protected by the government should they decide to lay down their arms.

“Our call to action to the rebels is this: you can start a new and more meaningful life by rejoining society and availing the existing programs the government has laid out for you. We assure you that the government is sincere to its vision to listen to your needs and issues, through our localized peace engagements,” he said.

For his part, Galvez emphasized the need to continue implementing LPEs to finally put an end to the the culture of fear, violence and hatred the CTG has perpetuated in communities

“It is our hope that the conduct of LPE will continue even beyond the Duterte administration. We have seen that this strategy is the best way in dealing with the communist insurgency, as everyone is involved in the peacebuilding process – the members of the communities and the rebels themselves,” Galvez said.

“We need to address the roots of the armed rebellion. We need to make the rebels feel that they and their families are safe once they make that decision to return to mainstream society. Most importantly, we need to make them feel that they are part of the solution,” he added. ###