Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte

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Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte

The initiative is arguably a silver lining in the president’s controversial tenure thus far.

Progress in the Philippine Peace Process Under Duterte
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The second round of the peace talks between the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) ended with both parties agreeing on the framework and outline of the proposed agreements on socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. The negotiations were conducted in Norway.

The rebels have been waging a Maoist-inspired guerrilla warf in the Philippine countryside since 1969. The peace process started in 1986 after the downfall of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The peace talks produced some landmark agreements like the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which was signed in 1998. It also facilitated the declaration of brief intermittent ceasefires between government troops and rebels. But overall, the process has failed to end the armed conflict and address the people’s desire for a just and lasting peace.

Since 2011, the peace talks have been suspended. The government under former President Benigno Aquino III wanted to ignore previously signed agreements in order to fast track the negotiations. The military was also confident that it could defeat the rebels in the battlefield. On the part of the NDF, it pressed for the release of more than a dozen of its senior leaders who were arrested by state forces.

The electoral victory of Duterte raised hopes that the peace process can be resumed because the former Davao City mayor enjoyed good relations with both the NDF and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

The prospect of achieving peace was given a boost by Duterte’s decision to appoint left-leaning leaders in the Cabinet. He also endorsed the release of NDF peace consultants. This paved the way for the formal resumption of the peace negotiations last August.

For the first time since 1986, the government and the NDF declared a separate unilateral ceasefire as a goodwill measure. The NDF also agreed to accelerate the time frame of the peace talks. The second round of the talks was conducted last weekend, coinciding with Duterte’s 100th day in office.

The joint statement signed by both parties contained the following: anagreement on the working outline of Social and Economic Reforms, Political and Constitutional Reforms, and End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces; implementation of activities of the Joint Monitoring Committee of CARHRIHL; possible declaration of a bilateral ceasefire within the month; renewal of the commitment to release more than 400 political prisoners through a general amnesty.

The release of political prisoners has been a longstanding demand of the NDF. If Duterte will approve the amnesty proposal, it will need the concurrence of Congress.

The next round of the peace talks will be held in January 2017.

The challenge for both panels is how to merge their separate draft agreements on the remaining peace agenda. It’s still uncertain whether the government negotiators and rebel leaders can agree on controversial issues such as land reform, national industrialization, and foreign trade. The panels have three months to find a creative compromise solution in order to move forward the peace process.

But there are other factors that contributed to the success of the peace initiative. For example, Duterte’s recent assertion of an independent foreign policy was publicly supported by the NDF. The Communist Party also released a statement about the possibility of entering into a patriotic alliance with the Duterte government if the president will pursue his public pronouncements with concrete measures like the junking of “unequal” defense agreements between the Philippines and the United States.

Duterte’s tirades against the United States are unprecedented in Philippine history. But Duterte became an instant inspiration for those who wanted the Philippines to rethink its close ties with its former colonial master. Deliberate or not, Duterte’s nationalist outburst also enhanced the prospects of achieving peace with communist rebels.

Duterte’s human rights record is an international embarrassment. But if he wants something positive to highlight in his first 100 days in the presidential palace, he can mention the peace process. So far, he has already outperformed his immediate predecessors in terms of achieving a semblance of peace in the Philippines.