Joma to Duterte: Talks, yes, lasting peace, no

MANILA – No, 2019 will not be the year that the underground movement and the national government agree to end the world’s longest running communist insurgency.

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria ‘Joma” Sison said as much this week when he said that the ultimate goal this year is to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

The word war between the two sides had escalated in the last few weeks after the administration all but declared a victory over the Left. Sison pointed out that despite the government’s claim that the communist insurgency as a spent force, the president still referred to them as the “principal threat to the state.”

Sison added that the Filipino people have the “sovereign right” to oust Mr. Duterte, whom he called a “tyrant” as well as a “mass murderer.”

Last month, Mr. Duterte first called on Sison to return the Philippines, then later said, “Don’t ever return home.”

The president also said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines should not only fight the NPA, but to “destroy” the armed wing of the communist movement.

In the meantime, Sison said the Left is still willing to engage the government in peace talks, which the Duterte administration suspended in 2017 after accusing the rebels of constantly breaking the terms of the pact earlier signed between the two sides.

Thus, the two sides have adopted a similar policy of seeking a total victory over the other even as renewing peace talks remains a possibility.

The one hitch is that the national government wants to have peace talks on a provincial or regional level, while the umbrella organization National Democratic Front (NDF) – where Sison serves as “senior adviser” – wants talks solely on a national level.

However, talks with the CPP-NDP-NPA (New People’s Army) are not totally realistic as there was a schism within the underground movement some decades back, with the splinter groups having greater control over some areas than the CPP, notably in the South.

At the onset of the Duterte presidency, it appeared that a permanent and lasting peace between the Left and the national government was not only possible, but probable.

Mr. Duterte treated Sison with respect as the communist leader had once been his professor in college. Further, as Davao City mayor, Mr. Duterte had declared himself a supporter of the NPA, even attending one of their founding anniversary rites in Davao.

The CPP-NPA-NDF celebrated the 50th anniversary of their armed rebellion against the government on the day after Christmas, last year.