New defense secretary, but same old policy

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Nearing the end of his first year in Malacañang, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stayed silent about his stand on the continuing calls from peace advocates to resume negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, unilaterally terminated in November 2017.

Now comes his newly-appointed defense secretary, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., in a Palace briefing Thursday categorically stating that: “My personal position is no. I have held that position for a long time and I think that is the position of the [Cabinet] security cluster as of this time.”

Teodoro hastened to add though that he has yet to consult Marcos Jr. on the issue.

However, he called on the “communist rebels” to surrender – which is what the security (military-police) forces have been doing under their “localized peace process” since 2018. Oddly, he urged the Communist Party of the Philippines to join the “legitimate political process” by registering as a “legitimate political party” to pursue its advocacies and showing evidence of its “total disavowal of resorting to subversive means in order to gain political power.”

Odd, yes, for him to ask for “total disavowal of resorting to subversive means” because Teodoro himself said that the Anti-Subversion Law of 1951 has been repealed (during the Fidel Ramos administration).  Hence, it should no longer be relevant as a reference point. The law became antiquated, because it defined “subversion” as taking up arms against the government in order to place it under a foreign power.

Moreover, Teodoro may presumably be also aware that, under the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) of 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Council (a body under the Executive) has designated the CPP-NPA and the NDFP as “terrorist organizations” and thus technically barring government from negotiating with them. But he has not said anything about the ATA.

During the Palace press briefing, Teodoro suggested that the issues tackled during the GRP-NDFP peace talks could be discussed in Congress – describing the latter as the “proper forum.” Did he know that a bill calling for genuine agrarian reform has been unacted upon by the House of Representatives in the past two decades?

In contrast, was he aware that, in the accelerated formal peace negotiations in 2017, the GRP and NDFP panels arrived at a common draft agreement on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD), appropriately initialed by both sides, on Nov. 17, 2017.

A key consensus, enshrined in Sections 2 and 3 of the draft accord, states:

“Section 2. The expropriated land shall be redistributed for free to all tillers, farmers, farmworkers, agricultural workers, fisherfolks and all others willing and capable to till the land, with preference given to those who have been occupying the lands as beneficiaries, tenants and leaseholders.

“Section 3. The goal of agrarian reform is free land distribution as a means of achieving social justice. The agrarian reform program shall ensure that tillers or farmers, whether individually or collectively through cooperatives or similar organizations, shall have control over the land.”

Moreover, a common draft on National Industrialization and Economic Development was likewise aptly initialed by both panels on Nov. 17, 2017.

Can the Philippine Congress come up with legislations covering the topics of these two common draft agreements as fast as the peace negotiators had worked on them?

Promptly on June 8, the NDFP negotiating panel in Utrecht, the Netherlands, rebutted Teodoro’s statement.

“It comes as no surprise that recently appointed Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro has always been against pursuing peace talks with the NDFP,” the statement quoted Julie de Lima, interim chairperson of the peace panel. “After all, Teodoro comes from the same ilk of military warmongers who served Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and supported convicted war criminal Jovito Palparan.”

The statement referred to Teodoro, Arroyo’s defense secretary from 2017 t0 2019, as “one of the main implementors of Oplan Bantay Laya, which was one of the bloodiest counterrevolutionary campaigns under the US-Arroyo regime.” Human rights violations under that campaign included aerial bombings in Mindanao and various cases of enforced disappearances.

“We reiterate the NDFP’s policy of openness to peace negotiations,” the statement said. “But at the same time, we see no signs of the current administration’s willingness to create the necessary conditions for peace talks to continue.”

“Continued US military presence and intervention is an obstacle to creating favorable conditions for peace negotiations,” the NDFP panel statement stressed. The most recent Balikatan joint US-Philippines military exercises, it added, was a “demonstration of direct US support for counterrevolutionary attacks by the Marcos Jr. regime.”

For its part, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) described as “unfortunate” Teodoro’s rejection of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. It may signal “more of the same militaristic approach to the roots of the armed conflict,” Bayan warned.

The more than 50 years of armed conflict, Bayan asserted, exists because of poverty, social injustice, lack of sovereignty and widespread human rights violations. “The Marcos Jr. regime is sorely mistaken if it thinks these issues can be addressed through militaristic means – armed offensives, bombings, forced surrender of civilians [depicted as CPP-NPA supporters], extrajudicial killings, destructions and other acts that redound to gross human rights violations.”

Such militaristic means have been adopted by every administration that has promised to “end the insurgency” during their watch. The approach has repeatedly failed, Bayan emphasized, because it never sought to address the root causes of the armed conflict.

The Duterte regime used the ATA as a “permanent stumbling block to the resumption of the peace negotiations, and used the ‘terrorist’ label to justify violations of international humanitarian law.” Noting that the Philippines “has become notorious for its human rights record all the way to the United Nations,” Bayan concluded:

“We believe that the current anti-peace and pro-militarist policy of the government will fail. It would be better for the current regime if it picked up from where the peace talks left off in 2017… Hubris and arrogance will not solve the insurgency.”

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