LIFE MATTERS: Nothing wrong with Chasing Rainbows

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By Dr. Col Dencio Acop (Ret)

I saw an article entitled ‘Chasing Rainbows’ and it is basically an argument against holding peace talks with the communist rebels in the Philippines. The Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDFP) recently affirmed and signed a joint statement which basically said that due to the “serious socioeconomic and environmental issues, and foreign security threats facing the country, the parties recognize the need to unite as a nation in order to urgently address these challenges and resolve the reasons for the armed conflict”.

The joint effort, signed on November 23, 2023 and facilitated by the Norwegian government, aims to achieve “the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace”. Hawks, mostly remnants (not all) of the previous administration, were quick to dismiss this latest effort at peace in the Philippines citing its futility for various reasons, real or imagined. Not all in uniform though, past or present, share this hawkish position. I am one of those “doves”. Despite having fought the communist insurgents in my 26 years of commissioned military service, I say there is always room for lasting peace. There has to be. Allow me to cite my reasons.

First, the end of wars is peace. If it was not so, then the prosecution of wars is useless and must be outlawed altogether. Despite the imperfections of wars and the issues that brought them to bear, the optimism of man to rise above his imperfections must dominate or life on earth is doomed. Let us not forget that the Irish Republican Army, Northern Ireland ,and the United Kingdom are now at peace despite their bloody killings for years. Let us not also forget that world peace (and its lasting pursuit) inked through the United Nations in 1950 came about as a result of World War II. It is only sad that this relative world peace enjoyed since is once again being threatened this time by an aggressive Communist China, the same external threat to the Philippines and the world partly referred to in the joint statement. Second, the Philippine government has not achieved decisive victory over the communist rebels. If decisive victory was achieved, why is there continued fighting with the insurgents? Claimed victory by hawks is not the same as real victory on the ground. Decisive victory means lasting peace wherein there is no more domestic fighting but only development and preparing against foreign invasion by an external threat like China.

Third, the claimed demise of the insurgents by some is not entirely accurate. It is in fact truer that the pivot to China and lack of good governance especially from the previous administration strengthened the cause of the insurgents. The local rebels were becoming unheard of until the Duterte government trained its guns on them when they pointed out Duterte’s hypocrisy in running after Filipino communists when he was friendly with the Chinese Communist Party, a much larger threat which invaded Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Philippine Sea, built illegal structures therein, totally ignored the 2016 tribunal ruling, and did not follow through many economic investments it promised the Philippines and instead flooded the country with off-shore gaming operations staffed by illegally imported Chinese workers. World Politics Review (2021) reported that despite Beijing’s having “pledged tens of billions of dollars in new investments in the Philippines”, actual deliveries were merely unfinished constructions of a bridge and an irrigation system. Also, every soldier who served in the Armed Forces of the Philippines knows that “winning the hearts and minds of the people” through good governance wins peace and is the effective answer to rebellions. The previous administration was hardly the answer what with at least 7,000 dead suspects in another abusive “war” that also did not achieve decisive victory. But did in fact achieve getting the attention of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The previous administration, instead of ending the insurgency, actually fueled it by its rampant corruption and abuse of power disregarding the rule of law and increased repression like “red-tagging” by the notorious National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which violated people’s human rights as the bloody drug war did. There is also apparent hypocrisy by that government in allegedly fighting weaker local communists but not lifting a finger against a foreign communist aggressor, the Chinese Communist Party.

Fourth, peace with rebels is possible in the Philippines exemplified by the 1996 Final Peace Agreement or Jakarta Accord between the GRP and the Moro National Liberation Front ending 24 years of conflict. The MNLF was a separatist armed group which fought the Philippine government for the creation of an independent Islamic state in southern Philippine territory. In October 1995, President Fidel Ramos officially made peace with military rebels granting amnesty to 5,000 officers and soldiers and allowing them “to rejoin the army without loss of rank or pay”. That peace agreement ended recurring military rebellion since 1986. Ramos also legalized the communist party in 1992 repealing the 1957 anti-subversion act in the hope of peace encouraging the communists to engage in discourse rather than armed struggle as the Irish did. But it was actually not the first time the communists were legalized in the Philippines because that was already done in 1938 after they were first outlawed in 1932. Ramos was also on his way to making peace with another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, when his term ended in 1998.

Fifth, again despite the talking heads of hawks, peace negotiations are not necessarily a sign of weakness on the part of the government, or governments for that matter. History is replete with strong nations making peace with weaker ones or rebels. There is no need to kick a man who is already down as the saying goes. Most wars ended with the strong welcoming peace with the weak. The Philippines is not negotiating with the CPP-NPA-NDF because it is weak. It is doing so in order to bring about peace which will usher in economic development and so that the army can focus on a much more dangerous threat: the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the presence of the People’s Liberation Army is arguably already in Philippine shores, on its islets built upon by artificial military installations. The Chinese Coast Guard, by Chinese law, is already attacking Philippine resupply details on their way to the Ayungin Shoal outpost. There are some locals who say that the presence of the PLA may already be among the POGO workers found with PLA identification documents.

Finally, the leaders of the defense and security departments of the Philippine government are unanimous in acknowledging that there are more merits than demerits in welcoming the Oslo Communique. They include the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Defense Secretary, National Security Adviser, Philippine National Police Chief, and the Presidential Peace Adviser. Of course, the President is all for it. Why would they all not be? Following the disaster of Duterte’s pivot to Communist China, most Filipinos are only too happy to be back in the defense orbit of the United States, its former colonial master and long-time ally. The Philippines and the United States share the same cultural values and democratic ideals. These values and ideals are not shared between the Philippines and Communist China. While hawks may see nothing wrong with the high-handedness of authoritarianism, most Filipinos are Christians who value human rights and moral values. The U.S. President has already said that the superpower state stands behind the almost a century-old Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and its former colony. It means that an attack on the Philippines is an attack on the United States. Have you ever wondered why despite its bullying other small countries in the region, Chinese pilots and captains always stop short of actually engaging American jets and aircraft carriers? Despite China’s new-found strength, the United States has the world’s strongest military. Also, by winning the 2016 arbitration, the Philippines enjoys the support of other countries whose interests are upheld by the ruling. Further, it has the psychological support of about two-thirds of the world whose political leanings are democratic than authoritarian. Joint patrols with American, Australian, Japanese, and other allies are increasing. Other claimants in the South China Sea like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Taiwan are likewise asserting themselves against Chinese aggression. There is nothing wrong with chasing rainbows. For at the end of the rainbow is a pot of gold. Today, that pot of gold also contains peace, development, and security.

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