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Reli L. German: Talk or no talk? Bakbakan o dakdakan? Sulong o urong?

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Defense and military officials must now be reeling with confusion at President Duterte’s latest declaration that the on-again, off-again peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) may again be resumed at some later date.

Duterte made the pronouncement in Bulacan Friday, December 8 during the 84th anniversary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). He said that the government’s negotiating panel headed by Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello may restart the stalled peace talks with the communist rebels “some other time.”

Yet only last December 5, he signed Proclamation 374 which classified the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations. This followed his earlier issuance of Proclamation 360 that formally terminated peace talks with the rebel group.

Reports said he made the twin moves in exasperation over the continuing attacks and ambushes of the NPA on military and police stations and personnel. He even warned support groups and sympathizers of the rebels, including business and mining companies, that they would face arrest and prosecution should they continue to pay the revolutionary tax being extorted by the NPA.

The two proclamations had gained strong support from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff whose term was recently extended by the President up to April next year. Together with the commanders of the different AFP units, the two must be wondering now where the fight against the communists is headed. The
President’s puzzling pronouncements put his credibility into serious question.
It is not inconceivable that key officers of both the military and the police may also be grappling now with the confusing turn of events brought about by the President’s mercurial mood and ambiguous stand on the peace talks.

The military, in particular, had recently made significant strides in the campaign against the rebels. It reported that seven NPAs were killed and four others were captured in a clash last week at the boundary of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces while losing only two soldiers. Some three hours after the firefight, 10 rebels reportedly surrendered to the 33rd Infantry Battalion in Sultan Kudarat.

Another group of 14 NPAs were said to have yielded to the 26th Infantry Battalion in Agusan del Sur last December 6, a day after they were tagged as terrorists. Last November 11, soldiers and policemen fought with suspected rebels in Nasugbu, Batangas resulting in the death of 15 alleged NPA’s. In sum therefore, it appears that the government is scoring well against the rebels.

But now, it appears that in spite of Proclamations 360 and 374, Duterte has not really shut the door to a resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA. So
how does this affect the morale of the military? And what about the leftist groups allied with the communists? Will they remain unmolested and cry persecution if arrested?

Ano ba talaga kuya? Talk or no talk? Bakbakan o dakdakan? Sulong o urong?

On the other hand, the communists should show sincerity in peace talks with the government. As things stand, they are letting their guns do the talking. They continue to burn and destroy the plants, equipment and facilities of the firms that refuse to comply with their extortionist activities. In the first place, are they willing to stop collecting revolutionary taxes as demanded by Duterte?

As for the government, why continue talking with the Europe-based rebels who, by their own admission, are not really in full control of the NPAs? In fact, one of them, former priest Luis Jalandoni, has long renounced his Filipino citizenship and is now a Dutch citizen. Very soon, they could become irrelevant to the Philippines.