Contrary to how the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) portrays the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) as pro-masses, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said it is a piece of document that only serves the interest of communists.
“At first glance, this may appear to be pro-masses as it promises to benefit the majority, if not all, but if we look at it closely, the duplicitous character and self-interest of the communist terrorist group (CTG) becomes evident, as the provisions do not directly reflect the best interest of the nation, but their own,” said Esperon, who is also vice-chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)
Contrary to NDFP’s claim that their CASER contains “concrete and doable steps towards liberating the Filipino people from poverty, exploitation, and underdevelopment”, Esperon said dismantling the current economic model means reversing all economic reforms in the past several decades implemented through laws passed by previous administrations.
“Such move would be an arduous, costly, and extensive process,” he added. “The Philippines might not only find itself worse off economically if it lets go of the advantages of the current system but also face ostracism and isolation in the community of nations after such a radical shift.”
Their CASER, he said, was crafted with the goal of turning the Philippine economic model to nationalist and socialist which means it would dismantle the effects of globalization that communists view as the cause of the country’s continued underdevelopment.
Esperon added that CASER, a document bannered by NDFP to be forged prior to the signing of an Interim Peace Agreement, will bind not only the current administration and the communists, but also all their successors.
“We believe that future conditions merit suitable responses. It would be unreasonable for the current administration to commit to something that would be irrevocable and might present challenges for the next administrations,” he said in a position paper on peace talks.
NDF’s demand that the agreement remains in force regardless of the outcome of peace talks robs the Philippine government of its ability to negotiate on equal footing with the CTG and therefore, might sabotage the government’s efforts in attaining a genuine and lasting peace with rebels, he added.
He said CASER’s provision of designating the NPA to play a key role in implementing agrarian reform, and demobilizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) by reducing their functions only for civil works and infrastructure construction, will be hugely detrimental to the government because the military must be able to retain their mandate of protecting country and its people from various kinds of threats.
“Conceding to their CASER version will not only be an act of admission of their (CTG) accusations but an act of disregard to the efforts of our leaders and lawmakers in addressing pressing societal issues,” he said.
Esperon was referring to the government’s passage of fundamental policy reforms and laws that address the root causes of armed conflict which include the aggressive implementation of land reform, free irrigation, Free Tertiary Education, Universal Health Care, Expanded 4Ps, and the Build, Build, Build program.
Given the objectionable provisions of NDF’s proposed CASER, he expressed doubts that engaging in another round of peace talks would be beneficial to the country.
‘Pointless’ peace talks
He lamented that the government had many attempts to end the conflict with the communists since 1986 with more than 40 rounds of peace talks conducted with the same people as negotiators.
“But for the longest time, the peace talks were only used as a period to rest when badly beaten, seek reinforcements, and initiate recruitment. Engaging in another round of peace talks after all these years and all our efforts without significant changes is therefore pointless,” he said.
As alternatives to peace talks, he said, the government has been pursuing local peace engagements which have resulted in understanding and mainstreaming of rebels.
“The government has the capacity to fulfill its obligations for social justice and development. Who needs the CPP/NPA/NDF?” he added.
Esperon, former AFP Chief-of-Staff Chief of Staff, said his objection to the resumption of formal peace negotiations was not because he is on their hit list but due to the communist rebels’ continued attacks on civilians.
“What is objectionable is when the NPA, surely under the command of NDF and CPP, attacks or ambushes civilians as they did in Barangay Libuton, Borongan City, Eastern Samar last December 13, 2019,” he said.
The NPA ambush left three civilians and a policeman dead, 14 wounded including three children (ages one, six and 13).
“The NPA used roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices. This is in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which the CPP/NPA/NDF signed and bounded itself to,” he added.
He said he is not surprised that the NPA had no second thoughts about possibly hitting innocent children and civilians for it was CPP founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison who ordered to go on the offensive.
“That is one clear character of the CPP/NPA/NDF – their pursuit of armed struggle to be victorious over the government at all costs. That is the true nature of their so-called National Democratic Revolution.,” he added. “Anything goes – bloodbath, duplicity, and deception as long as it contributes to their eventual victory.”
He also raised doubts over their trustworthiness and sincerity to resume peace talks and what it meant to them for failing to honor the unilateral and reciprocal ceasefire from Dec. 23, 2019, to midnight of Jan. 7, 2020.
On the first day of the holiday truce on December 23, rebels attacked AFP troops in Labo, Camarines Norte resulting in one soldier killed and five wounded, and in Tubungan, Iloilo that left two policemen wounded.
Reds’ Peace Talks
Sison and the CPP-NPA-NDF, he said, should first be “clear” on the peace talks’ objectives before a resumption is made.
He quoted Luis Jalandoni, a ranking communist leader, as saying, “We see that peace negotiations are another form of legal struggle which is possible to be used by the revolutionary forces in order to advance the revolutionary armed struggle and the revolutionary mass movement. This other form of legal struggle, the peace negotiation, does not replace the revolutionary armed struggle nor the revolutionary mass movement. In fact, it should advance the revolutionary armed struggle and the revolutionary mass movement which is a more important struggle than peace negotiations.”
He added that according to the late Fr. Conrado Balweg, former Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) chair: “They (communists) are organized to take political power, to become the government, to be the ones in Malacañang. Iyon ang issue sa kanila, hindi peace. Sa peace talks, we are not addressing the problem because we are talking something beyond the point. The NPA is created in order for the CPP to be the ones in government. That is the issue.”
“Are we going to hand over governance to the CTG or at least be in a coalition government with them? Are we going to demobilize and demilitarize the NPA or let them become part of the new government armed forces?” Esperon added. (PNA)