MANILA – The future of the stalled peace negotiations between the national government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) lies in the hands of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., an official of the anti-insurgency task force said Friday.
"That is a decision that the President of the Republic will make," National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos, who also serves as the vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said in a press conference, when asked about the possible revival of talks with CPP's political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).
For now, the NTF-ELCAC will continue the local engagement with the communist insurgents, pending Marcos' decision on the fate of peace talks between the national government and the NDF, Carlos said.
This developed after members of the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee held its first meeting on Friday.
"The local peace councils are the ones working so we continue on that level. With regard to the resumption, that is the call of the President of the Republic," Carlos said.
The peace talks between the national government and the NDF have been intermittent since 1986.
Former president Rodrigo Duterte on Nov. 23, 2017 signed Proclamation 360, terminating the national government's peace negotiations with the CPP-NDF following a series of attacks waged by the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), against state forces and civilians.
However, Duterte on Dec. 4, 2018 signed Executive Order (EO) 70, insitutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach that will be implemented by the NTF-ELCAC to achieve "inclusive and sustainable peace."
Under EO 70, local peace bodies are directed to negotiate with communist rebels in their respective areas.
In a joint statement, members of the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee proposed the granting of amnesty to communist rebels, in an effort to address the insurgency problems and bring peace and development to the country.
"The task force strongly recommends the need for offering an amnesty to prevent the resurgence of the communist terrorist group, especially in geographically challenged, isolated and disadvantaged areas," the statement read.
Quizzed if the proposed amnesty covers the political prisoners, Carlos said: "We don't know yet the nitty-gritty of this recommendation so let's just leave it at that."
Apart from the recommended amnesty, the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee also sought the implementation of the task force's programs aimed at empowering local governments, ensuring peace and law enforcement in the communities, providing assistance to former rebels and former violent extremists.
The NTF-ELCAC programs that will be implemented aim to attain "genuine healing and reconciliation."
Full support for ELCAC mandate
Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed their full support for the NTF-ELCAC’s mandate.
"We are very happy for the developments that we have today and we assure the Filipino people of our commitment, particularly the Department of National Defense in pursuing the objectives of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict," DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Jose Faustino Jr. said during the press conference shortly after the meeting.
Faustino added the task force has reaped gains in reducing the threat of communist insurgency.
“Napakalaki na ng idinulot na kabutihan pagdating sa kapayapaan ng NTF-ELCAC. Kung mapapansin natin, ang mga violent incidents na ginawa ng NPA ay bumaba, all the parameters ay bumaba – ang kanilang strength, ang kanilang firearms, affected barangays at lalo na ang guerrilla fronts (The NTF-ELCAC has produced so many good results in terms of achieving the peace. If you will notice, the violent incidents perpetrated by the NPA have decreased, all the parameters have gone down – their strength, their firearms, affected barangays, and especially guerrilla fronts),” he added.
His views were shared by AFP chief Gen. Andres Centino, who said that the military will work hard to ensure that peace will be won.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines is one with the NTF-ELCAC to work for the (achievable) objectives of the task force. This problem has lingered for several decades and the AFP will be all out in ensuring that we achieve the peace that we all aspired for in our lifetime," he added.
Other officials who attended the meeting were Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity; Allen Capuyan, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples chair; Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao Jr., Officer-in-Charge of the Philippine National Police; Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, Department of the Interior and Local Government; Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Miranda; and Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat (ret.), executive director-designate of the NTF-ELCAC Secretariat.
Officials from the Department of Public Works and Highways, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of Foreign Affairs, and National Economic Development Authority likewise participated in the meeting.
Ricardo De Leon, head of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), was not in the meeting but had said in previous interviews that the NTF-ELCAC’s initiatives must be sustained, including the Barangay Development Program (BDP) that helps former conflict-afflicted communities to recover.
BDP has identified 822 barangays (villages) nationwide that received or will receive PHP20 million each for farm-to-market roads, classrooms, water and sanitation systems, health stations, and other livelihood projects.
“That would now assure us of a stronger nation because we have already started giving focus on national security and interest, that would now trigger ‘yung (the) development. The NTF-ELCAC, we need to sustain it. And our job now in NICA is the evaluation,” he said.
As a veteran in counter-insurgency operations, De Leon emphasized the need to empower the villages, particularly far-flung areas that are vulnerable to conflicts. (with Priam Nepomuceno, Lloyd Caliwan, Lade Kabagani/PNA)