Lessons for peace

The Freeman

The lifting by President Duterte of the government's unilateral ceasefire with the New People's Army on Saturday should not be seen as a douse of cold water on the enthusiasm of both parties in pursuing a peace agreement.

As has been said, peace is a process not an event. It requires patience and political leadership.

Thankfully, the two sides are keeping the door open for formal peace negotiations which is expected resume later this month.

I am quite hesitant to tackle in this column space any topic that involves the CPP-NDF in the discussion. Disclosure: I am still one of the lawyers of the jailed Tiamzon couple who may later be involved in the peace negotiations as consultants.

However, peace is an issue closest to my heart. I am as eager as any peace-loving Filipino to see peace between the government and rebel groups realized in my generation.

Thus, I think it may serve us well to recall the noteworthy lessons for conflict resolution in one of the most arduous peace negotiations in world history.

In an article posted online by the London School of Economics and Political Science, Jonathan Powell shared 10 lessons on conflict resolution based on his experience as chief British negotiator in the successful Northern Ireland peace process.

First, Powell says, there are no purely military solutions to insurgencies. If the conflict is rooted to a political problem, then it requires a political solution.

Second: You cannot stop the violence without talking to the men with guns. Talking with them does not necessarily mean agreeing with them.      

Third: Insurgent groups will not just surrender. Preconditions amounting to partial or complete surrender could doom the talks before it could even begin.

Fourth: Both sides must believe that they cannot win militarily. The peace process is bound to fail if either side's purpose is to seek tactical advantage from the negotiation.

Fifth: There must be political leadership on both sides. The peace process needs strong leaders who can deal with saboteurs and disgruntled constituents.

Sixth: Peace is a process not an event.

Seventh: There is a role for third parties.

Eight: Breakthrough agreements are the beginning not the end of a peace process.

Ninth: Agreements will only stick if both sides come out of the negotiations feeling like winners, rather than feeling they have been forced to give in.

Tenth: There is no conflict in the world, no matter how long, no matter how bloody, that cannot be resolved.

For lack of space to expound on each lesson, I encourage you to read the entire text of Powell's brief at www.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/reports/pdf/SR008/powell.pdf.

Having shared that, let me just say that we must realize by now that top government positions for the Left or its allies will not induce them into softening their stance on substantial and contentious issues. The revolutionary movement did not survive decades of constant assault from several administrations without a solid ground to stand on.

Although I cannot subscribe to its methods, compared to all the other political parties in the country, the Left still has the sharpest analysis of the basic problems besetting Philippine society. It also has the solid principles and organizational discipline to pursue both political and armed solutions to these problems.

I hope a middle ground can be met in the not so distant future. Maybe the Left can be persuaded to accept that any radical changes in the system can only be done through the will of the electorate. The government, for its part, must ensure the inviolability of the democratic space and the rule of law for all, including the Left, not just in the cities but also in the countryside. It is in the rural areas where the ruling elites routinely make a mockery of our laws outside the watchful eyes of mass media.

I may sound naïve. But for once, let me just say: Let's make peace, not war.


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