With the possible cancellation of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the government’s strategy to pursue localized peace talks with New People's Army (NPA) ground units is gaining wide support from local government units (LGUs), according to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“We have received good feedback from LGUs as they expressed their willingness to play a more significant role in ending hostilities in their respective localities. In particular, the League of Cities of the Philippines and the Philippine Councilor's League has expressed support for this initiative,” says DILG OIC-Secretary Eduardo M. Año.
"We are not giving up on peace. We will pursue every avenue that we can utilize. Thus, we are pursuing localized peace talks to allow our brothers and sisters in the mountains to rejoin mainstream Philippine society. If Joma Sison and his minions give up on peace, we will instead talk to all the NPA ground units that are sincere in their desire to talk peace," says Año.
Año says local government officials on the ground are more aware of the prevailing issues in their locality that led the rebels to take up arms against the government, hence “they are in a better position to engage in talks with the communist rebels in their area and possibly recommend solutions to address these problems on the local level”.
“It is also part of their (local officials) general welfare mandate under the Local Government Code to maintain peace and order therefore they should exercise that role of exploring all avenues of making peace,” he says.
The DILG chief expresses frustration with the CPP/NDF/NPA leadership who refuses to implement confidence building measures to make the peace talks succeed like stopping all attacks on government forces and government projects as well as the collection of revolutionary taxes from private firms.
President Rodrigo Duterte is set to sign an executive order that will spell out the guidelines for the conduct of localized peace talks.
Included in the guidelines are: it will be nationally orchestrated, centrally directed and locally supervised and implemented; the constitutional integrity and sovereignty of the country will not be compromised; and provision of a full amnesty package based on disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration to mainstream of society, among others.
‘Give peace a chance’
According to Philippine Councilors League (PCL) National Chairman and Davao City Councilor Danny Dayanghirang, “the informal consensus of the Philippine Councilors League is that we are encouraging localized peace talks.”
“We should give more elbow room for discussions at the local level to give peace a chance,” says Dayanghirang. “We better localize peace talks at the level of the region or province because the government and the rebels cannot continue to shoot at each other,” he stresses.
Dayanghirang also broaches the possibility of changing the panel of the NDF because the government has already spent a lot of time and money on the peace talks with Joma Sison taking the lead but “nothing has happened”.
“Instead of Sison who is not in the country anyway, local rebels could be in a better position to represent their group. Let the voice of the true local mass movements be heard in the panel,”he says.
Meanwhile, the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) says that properly implementing government projects and programs in communities will help alleviate discontent among rebel groups and pave the way for a ceasefire in the region.
“In general, LGUs can help pursue peace especially in those areas with active insurgency through the implementation of social and economic programs with the help of funding from the national government,” says LCP President and Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan.
He further adds that LGUs can direct “positive talks” with rebels who want to avail of amnesty.
Peace is end goal
The government, according to the DILG, is in no way trying to divide or dismantle any group through the localized peace talks with rebels.
“The government will continue to negotiate with the rebels one way or another. The end goal has always been peace whether the agreement is reached through the national or local discussions,” says Año.
According to the former Armed Forces Chief of Staff, the government is merely trying other options for each in the regions through localized peace talks.
On top of these efforts, Año says the DILG is making preparations for the reintegration of former rebels into mainstream society with the construction of more processing centers or halfway houses for former rebels under its Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).
The processing centers or halfway houses will serve as a sanctuary for the rehabilitation, healing sessions and skills training for former rebels to become reintegrated into society.
E-CLIP also offers assistance to former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and Militia ng Bayan (MB) who have surfaced and expressed their desire to abandon armed violence and become productive members of society.