President Rodrigo Duterte over the weekend revoked the unilateral ceasefire that he had declared with the Communist Party of the Philippines during his first State of the Nation Address. Apparent bad faith on the part of the Communist Party of the Philippines—New People’s Army—National Democratic Front was cited as the reason. Communist leader Jose Ma. Sison later called Mr. Duterte a bully even as peace talks are set to begin later this month.
This is just half of the insurgency problem. On another front is the pursuit of peace in Muslim Mindanao. The previous administration tried to ram down a flawed bill creating the Bangsamoro entity after consulting only one entity, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, perhaps in a hasty attempt to create a legacy for former President Benigno Aquino III.
As it turned out, the bill never progressed into law. There was opposition to its lack of inclusiveness, while the Mamasapano massacre of January 2015 cast some doubt on the sincerity of the MILF, which was perceived to be coming to the negotiating table with blood on its hands.
Now, President Duterte has said building peace in Mindanao is one of the priorities of his month-old administration, and that he might spend the next several days down South to try to talk to representatives of Muslim groups in an attempt to hear their concerns. Duterte has also ordered Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza to go to Kuala Lumpur and relaunch the talks for the Bangsamoro.
The Palace estimates the President may spend up to 10 days in Mindanao beginning today, with the President traveling to Cotabato and Jolo and talking not only to the MILF but also to the Moro National Liberation Front through its leader, Nur Misuari.
The two groups have agreed to “harmonize” their respective peace deals with the government.
There remains a lot to be done as the national leadership tries to find the best way to achieve peace in Mindanao. Most importantly, it should revisit how prior attempts progressed—and failed. If there was hubris on the part of the negotiators, if there was a selfish desire to claim success as one’s own, if there is an inability to coordinate actions and make all voices, big and small, count, then by all means the Duterte administration should by now have a vague idea how to proceed—and how not to.