Usapang Peace Talks
28 November 2021
Although Vice President Leni Robredo’s continued engagement with the public to tackle topics related to the ongoing communist insurgency and the quest to achieve a just and lasting peace has to be acknowledged, her recent comments about the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) are rather disheartening. Her remarks made on 26 November 2021, before an audience of military officials, that express support for the NTF-ELCAC’s mandate mark a surprising turnaround considering her earlier stance, which sought the agency’s abolition. ACT for PEACE, an alliance of peace advocates in the academe, hopes that the vice president would revisit her previous pronouncements because the NTF-ELCAC and Executive Order (EO) No. 70, which gives the agency its mandate, are beyond repair and need to be junked, not simply because of the carelessness of a rotten few within the institution but more importantly due to the culture of murderous impunity embedded in their very core.
The NTF-ELCAC’s mandate does not and cannot allow the agency, or any replacement institution for that matter, to implement a campaign that will address the roots of the armed conflict. The nature of EO 70 enables the militarization of the bureaucracy, instrumentalizing both civilian-led executive departments and state security forces in an all-out campaign against everyone it considers a threat, without discriminating between armed combatants and civilians. The spree of red tagging is just the tip of the iceberg; the spate of unjust arrests, sham displays of “rebel returnees,” and extrajudicial killings rationalized as part of its anti-insurgency campaign, coupled with the misuse of gargantuan public funds parked in various agencies, should already be more than enough proof to show the NTF-ELCAC’s irreparable ruthlessness. And yet despite its all-encompassing nature, it has practically zero accountability to the public.
Speaking of accountability, perhaps the vice president might want to ask the NTF-ELCAC to account for the billions of pesos allocated to its sham anti-poverty projects. Its vaunted Barangay Development Program (BDP) does not address the roots of the insurgency at all because of its localized nature. It unnecessarily duplicates a lot of the tasks of existing departments and programs (as pointed out by Robredo in an earlier statement) and is nothing but a justification to funnel money to local government units favored by the current regime, such as Davao City. Rather than discuss the BDP with the military establishment, why not ask the stakeholders directly affected by the government’s anti-insurgency campaign if billions of taxpayers’ money are used to address their concerns: Is the BDP being mobilized to prevent mining companies from laying waste to the ancestral lands of the lumad, or to alleviate the plight of landless farm workers in the haciendas of Negros, or to prevent the displacement of the Tumandok as a result of megaprojects in Iloilo? Or is the BDP used by the NTF-ELCAC to finance the harassment of these already marginalized communities?
Robredo does not have to fight alone if she decides to take a tougher stance against the NTF-ELCAC because she has the backing of different sectors and progressive forces. Opposition senators have proposed slashing its 2022 budget by as much as P24 billion. Various groups and individuals (including candidates in the upcoming elections) have called for its abolition. The heads of the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Far Eastern University, and University of Santo Tomas have even issued a joint statement early this year to denounce the malicious antics of former NTF-ELCAC spokesperson Antonio Parlade Jr. As peace advocates in the academe, the members of ACT for PEACE are confident in our belief that the vice president does not want an atmosphere of fear and surveillance to prevail in our schools and universities, where so-called subversive books are being pulled out and students and teachers are being harassed simply because they are vocal in expressing their views about socioeconomic and political issues. Rather than call for a reform of the agency, we hope she chooses to lend her support to the call for the resumption of the formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.#
Michael D. Pante
Lead Convenor, ACT for Peace