By Ben Cal
The government is determined to end all armed conflicts in the country within the term of President Benigno S. Aquino III in June 2016 and not pass on another unfinished business to the next administration, according to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Q. Deles.
“It is our goal to have agreements signed by mid-term of this administration, because we do not want to sign at the last hour and then leave it to the next administration to implement,” Deles said in a speech at the annual Metrobank Professorial Chair for Public Service and Governance at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City over the weekend.
Deles was the recipient of the award for public service this year.
The Philippines has been battling a two-pronged insurgency war – one against Muslim guerrillas and the other the communist rebels for over four decades now.
Peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) have restarted separately to find a just and lasting solution to the long-drawn insurgency problem.
“I was asked to give an update on the current progress of peace talks, including what’s new in this administration’s peace strategy, what are our concrete plans, timelines, targets, expectations, and the challenges of structural reform,” Deles said after receiving the award.
Deles also said she had spoken about the topic in “at least ten fora in the past four months, all asking to be briefed on the peace process. On these occasions, I have imparted a basic set of core messages over and over again.” “I am afraid that, to some people who have heard me before, some parts of my speech might sound like a broken record. Still, I have no other way of explaining what we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve except in this way, in these core words,” she said.
Deles spelled out “the reason and the cause why we have to win the peace in our country and win it now,” adding that “indeed, we are a country weary of war. From our revolution to our bloody birth as a nation a century ago, we fought Spain and, later, the Americans and, much later, in the second world war, the Japanese. The perception of an unjust peace ensuing from World War II compelled some of our countrymen and women to take up arms once more, this time against government.”
“And so, the question of justice and equity has continued to haunt all our efforts at nation-building,” she pointed out. Deles lamented that “what is labeled as the longest-running insurgency in our part of the world had torn families, communities, and the country apart. In Mindanao, the conflicts have furthermore been multi-layered and reflective of peoples’ historical assertions for self-determination.”
On the ground, Deles said, “dire realities of extreme poverty and negligence, political exclusion and manipulation, and cultural subordination leading to issues of contested identities have combined with the paucity of law and order, the preponderance of rugged and forested terrains across a scattered archipelago, and porous borders in the south, to provide fertile ground for all forms of armed violence, including the entry of trans-national terrorism.” <“All of these have made it imperative for our government to make conflict resolution a priority. However, we have not managed to successfully move away from repetitive cycles of violence,” she said. Deles also said that parties coming from various sectors have approached the negotiation tables with the best of intentions, “yet the hard questions that need to be addressed have too often gotten lost in the circuitous processes and complex protocols.” “The comfort of the so-called “creative ambiguity” – certainly, a useful stance to take just to keep negotiations going at the start – tended to take over straightforward exchanges, leading to many years of dribbling along,” Deles said apparently referring to the long years of protracted negotiations. “I had said at the opening of the resumption of the peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF in Oslo almost one year ago that ours has been a failure of nerve, a failure of will, a failure of the imagination. I say a failure of nerve because, having marched for so long to the drumbeat of war, we are unnerved by the fear of losing our step. I say failure of will because we would rather stick to our old formulas rather than risk losing ground and losing face. I say failure of imagination because we cannot let go of our fossilized ways of thinking and doing things, blind to the fact that the way to life is to make all things new.” Deles said that when the Aquino administration came in 2010, “the peace process was in a bad place. We had to pick up from where the past administration left off, with (1) a seven-year impasse in the negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF since talks were suspended in 2004 and a perceived state of impunity arising from the President’s (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) order in 2006 for the armed forces to end the insurgency in two years; (2) with the MILF, the outbreak of hostilities in 2008 after the MOA-AD (Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain) fiasco, which left nearly 700,000 persons displaced and provoking soaring levels of distrust on all sides; and (3) signed agreements still not fully delivered and brought to proper closure – namely, the Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF in 1996,and the respective ceasefire agreements with the CPLA in 1986, and with the RPMP-RPA-ABB in 2000.” With the election and assumption into office of President Benigno S. Aquino III in June, the Aquino government ushered in a shift in perspective in making and building peace in the face of the disarray of peace tracks. The issue of peace in Mindanao was part of the 16-point agenda, articulated by President Aquino’s when he was still a presidential candidate as his social contract with the Filipino people in search for peace. “We must revive the peace process on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the conflict, under clear policies that pave and clear the way ahead, and driven by a genuine desire to attain a just and lasting peace,” Deles said and “endeavor to restore confidence in a peace process that is transparent and participatory, and renew our faith in our shared vision of a peaceful, secure and prosperous future under one sovereign flag.” “For the first time, we have a government that states as a matter of national policy that promotion of the peace process shall be the centerpiece – not a by-the-way, not a sideline or side effect, but the centerpiece – of the internal security program,” Deles said. “While the government’s ultimate aim is to win the peace, the goal for the medium term shall be to bring all armed conflict to a permanent and peaceful closure,” she pointed out. Deles bared the objectives which she identified as negotiated political settlement of armed conflicts, which was referred to as Track 1; and effectively addressing the causes of armed conflict and other issues that affect the peace process, which is referred to in the Plan as the Complementary Track. The Complementary Track covers focused development in conflict-affected areas through the program which has been named Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA; and pursuing an enabling policy climate for peace. “Today, we face a troubled and complex landscape of armed conflict and peacemaking. I describe its state as complex because we have multiple armed conflicts with peace processes now spanning decades – and still counting – which have undergone circuitous routes and stop-and-go cycles under several presidencies,” she added. “While it is the Mindanao peace process with the MILF which currently attracts the most interest worldwide, the reality is we still have the insurgency being waged for more than 43 years now by the CPP/NPA, with its most bloodied battleground currently situated in northeastern Mindanao,” Deles said. At the same time, Deles said there was “still need to put closure to peace processes with armed parties covering specific areas of the country; namely, the CPLA in the Cordilleras, which signed a peace agreement with government 25 years ago; and the RPMP-RPA-ABB, with its main base in western Visayas, which signed a truce with government a decade ago – both break-away groups from the CPP/NPA.” “The imperative is to conclude political settlements or closure agreements with the different groups and ensure a firm start if not the completion of implementation of these agreements within the window that we now have – that is, within the six-year term of P-Noy,” Deles said.