What has happened recently between President Rodrigo Duterte and the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army) is a manifestation of the need for mutual understanding, patience, and unhurried, well-thought decisions.
In his SONA in July 25, the President declared a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA. The declaration is, perhaps, mistaken by many as an agreement between the two groups. This led them to expect that both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the rebel groups would immediately stop their operations. This is why we need to understand what ‘unilateral’ means.
There was necessarily no agreement. Unilateral, by its most basic definition, is an action or decision performed by or affecting only one person or group without the agreement of another or the others. This does not mean that the rebel groups are not willing to cooperate. This means that they should be given time with the sudden, yet to be reciprocated declaration.
The main conflict arose when rebel groups allegedly carried out various attacks in Davao del Norte. Duterte, perhaps already irked by the groups’ ‘noncompliance’ with the ‘ceasefire’, gave them a rather short time to explain the happening. The inability of the groups to explain forced Duterte to lift his declaration.
This attitude of Duterte to make abrupt decisions has perhaps prevented him from recognizing all sides of the story. Has he considered the reasons why such attacks were done? Sure, others may say that giving the rebels the chance to explain is an attempt for Duterte to understand their side. But was the ultimatum he imposed justifiable? Has he asked if the AFP had also abided to the unilateral ceasefire? In fact, a press statement by National Democratic Front (NDF) Southern Mindanao expressed that a ceasefire is non-existent in this region of Mindanao. What is evident, instead, are counter-revolutionary operations harassing and threatening civilians. It is absurd for a group to violate something they themselves have declared.
What is more unfortunate is that the CPP-NPA, reports said, planned to release a statement reciprocating Duterte’s ceasefire declaration at 8:00 pm of July 30. This was the same day Duterte lifted the declaration at 7:00 PM. Had Duterte become more discerning – had he decided to be more patient – perhaps everything could have run smoothly.
The CPP-NPA situation is complex and it takes more than impulsive declarations to comprehend this complexity. Duterte was right with his recent statement: “Maybe we did not understand each other.”
On a lighter side, the CPP-NPA has expressed that they will declare a ‘unilateral, simultaneous’ ceasefire this August 20 and that they are very willing to pursue the peace talks with the government. Duterte also expressed his hope to proceed with the talks with the CPP-NPA.
True enough, Duterte’s political will is admirable, but the challenge is to not let his good relationship with progressive groups be ruined just because of his tendency to be, as Sison described him, ‘volatile.’ I hope the President will not turn himself into someone like his predecessors. I hope he will continue being one with the protectors of the masses – a responsibility he has promised to carry out in his six years of Presidency.