Peace Talks and Philippine Mangoes

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the December 13, 2010 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

Where will the resumption of the peace talks between the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (NDF) lead to?

The negotiations have become interminable. Notwithstanding some concessions along the way, the talks, since the time of Corazon Aquino, would predictably collapse, which in turn would lead to new negotiations, which would stall, as expected.   And this game repeats itself.   The talks have become as protracted as the people’s war waged by the NDF.

But the two parties are more optimistic about the new round of peace talks—that’s the impression one can get from the headline stories.  Both parties have agreed to a ceasefire during the Christmas season.  The NDF’s peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni and his spouse Connie Ledesma have been given safe-conduct passes for them to enjoy a personal visit to the Philippines.  It would be unsurprising if government releases political prisoners soon, including the celebrated Morong 43, as a sign of goodwill.

It helps that Alex Padilla, who is concurrent chief operating officer of PhilHealth, was appointed the government’s lead peace negotiator.  That was a masterstroke on the part of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. The NDF enthusiastically and publicly welcomed the appointment of Alex and Pablito Sanidad as government negotiators.  Alex and Pablito were active in the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship and are highly respected human rights lawyers.  More to the point, even as they are no longer associated with the NDF, Alex and Pablito have maintained their friendships with erstwhile comrades.

In the Philippines, formal rules give way to a bigger institution—personal relationships.  That’s how the current leadership functions—P-Noy fully trusts Jojo Ochoa, thanks to their deep, durable friendship. And this has been a practice since time immemorial.  Marcos did that, too—appointing his law classmates in critical government bodies.

Well, the personal is political, and communists also believe in that adage. And so, we can expect trust to prevail in the peace talks because the members of the opposing panels believe in iba ang may pinagsamahan.

But the question remains:  Will the new round of negotiations result in substantial concessions by both sides and bring them closer to peace?

Jose Maria Sison in different interviews plainly states the strategic objectives of the warring parties.  To paraphrase him, the objective of the Philippine government is to decimate the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the NDF.  Similarly, the NDF and the communists want to overthrow the Republic of the Philippines, regardless of who is at the helm and supplant it with a “people’s democratic republic.”  (My parenthetical remark:  North Korea is a people’s democratic republic.)

Undoubtedly, the warring sides will continue pursuing their ultimate objectives in the course of the peace negotiations.  However, especially when the negotiators trust one another or when negotiators of opposite sides are friendly to one another, the peace process can lead to changes in the preferences of both sides.

In this case, Jose Maria Sison has signaled his personal preference.  The  Inquirer (5 December 2010) reports that Joma “yearns for mangoes and the mountains.”

Never mind the mountains because Joma can find them in Europe, but Philippine mangoes might be the clue to a change in Joma’s preference.  The sweetness and texture of Philippine mangoes, especially those grown in Zambales and Guimaras, are unique and distinctive.  In a manner, using economic parlance, we can classify Philippine mangoes as non-tradable.  That Joma craves  Philippine mangoes can thus be interpreted as a very plausible statement that he really misses home…and that he wants peace.

The new peace talks might then offer surprising outcomes—that is, a departure from the merry-go-round of previous negotiations.

One hurdle must be surmounted though.  Joma must be able to convince his ideological followers and his army that craving Philippine mangoes is as revolutionary and as patriotic as waging people’s war.

That can be done. Deng Xiaoping has shown the way; he was able to convince his comrades that “getting rich is glorious” is compatible with communism. And I am pretty sure that Joma, the propagandist and brilliant tactician that he is, can find a Marxist justification to associate yellow mangoes with red fervor.

Where will the resumption of the peace talks between the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front (NDF) lead to?

The negotiations have become interminable. Notwithstanding some concessions along the way, the talks, since the time of Corazon Aquino, would predictably collapse, which in turn would lead to new negotiations, which would stall, as expected. And this game repeats itself. The talks have become as protracted as the people’s war waged by the NDF.

But the two parties are more optimistic about the new round of peace talks—that’s the impression one can get from the headline stories. Both parties have agreed to a ceasefire during the Christmas season. The NDF’s peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni and his spouse Connie Ledesma have been given safe-conduct passes for them to enjoy a personal visit to the Philippines. It would be unsurprising if government releases political prisoners soon, including the celebrated Morong 43, as a sign of goodwill.

It helps that Alex Padilla, who is concurrent chief operating officer of PhilHealth, was appointed the government’s lead peace negotiator. That was a masterstroke on the part of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. The NDF enthusiastically and publicly welcomed the appointment of Alex and Pablito Sanidad as government negotiators. Alex and Pablito were active in the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship and are highly respected human rights lawyers. More to the point, even as they are no longer associated with the NDF, Alex and Pablito have maintained their friendships with erstwhile comrades.

In the Philippines, formal rules give way to a bigger institution—personal relationships. That’s how the current leadership functions—P-Noy fully trusts Jojo Ochoa, thanks to their deep, durable friendship. And this has been a practice since time immemorial. Marcos did that, too—appointing his law classmates in critical government bodies.

Well, the personal is political, and communists also believe in that adage. And so, we can expect trust to prevail in the peace talks because the members of the opposing panels believe in iba ang may pinagsamahan.

But the question remains: Will the new round of negotiations result in substantial concessions by both sides and bring them closer to peace?

Jose Maria Sison in different interviews plainly states the strategic objectives of the warring parties. To paraphrase him, the objective of the Philippine government is to decimate the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the NDF. Similarly, the NDF and the communists want to overthrow the Republic of the Philippines, regardless of who is at the helm and supplant it with a “people’s democratic republic.” (My parenthetical remark: North Korea is a people’s democratic republic.)

Undoubtedly, the warring sides will continue pursuing their ultimate objectives in the course of the peace negotiations. However, especially when the negotiators trust one another or when negotiators of opposite sides are friendly to one another, the peace process can lead to changes in the preferences of both sides.

In this case, Jose Maria Sison has signaled his personal preference. The Inquirer (5 December 2010) reports that Joma “yearns for mangoes and the mountains.”

Never mind the mountains because Joma can find them in Europe, but Philippine mangoes might be the clue to a change in Joma’s preference. The sweetness and texture of Philippine mangoes, especially those grown in Zambales and Guimaras, are unique and distinctive. In a manner, using economic parlance, we can classify Philippine mangoes as non-tradable. That Joma craves Philippine mangoes can thus be interpreted as a very plausible statement that he really misses home…and that he wants peace.

The new peace talks might then offer surprising outcomes—that is, a departure from the merry-go-round of previous negotiations.

One hurdle must be surmounted though. Joma must be able to convince his ideological followers and his army that craving Philippine mangoes is as revolutionary and as patriotic as waging people’s war.

That can be done. Deng Xiaoping has shown the way; he was able to convince his comrades that “getting rich is glorious” is compatible with communism. And I am pretty sure that Joma, the propagandist and brilliant tactician that he is, can find a Marxist justification to associate yellow mangoes with red fervor.

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