The ripe moment to break a mutually hurting stalemate

Arguably, the promise of peace and the explicit message to deal with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) lent public endearment to the Duterte campaign. Compare that to the non-committal or fuzzy stance of other presidential candidates. Or worse, Mar Roxas unabashedly branded the NPA as the enemy that is not worthy of dialogue.

 Duterte self-proclaimed himself as a leftist and a socialist although he later clarified that his socialism is simply ‘social’ that sounds like other socialisms such as social democracy found in Germany. But his cozy relationship with the CPP-NPA on the ground and his public statements defy the ideological fine lines between social democracy and the socialism of Marx and Lenin as well as the long-standing divide between social democrats and national democrats in the Philippines.
The CPP-NPA ignored Duterte’s version of socialism and instead leaned on his leftism. Besides what they had in common was fighting the administration candidate or the candidate of Tuwid na Daan.After six presidential administrations of which only one managed to ink pieces of agreements such as the Hague Joint Declaration in 1992, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in 1998, is the Duterte period the ripe moment for finally negotiating a peace deal?

In “The Timing of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe Moments” (The Global Review of Ethnopolitics, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 2001), William Zartman argues that resolution of conflict does not mainly depend on the substance of proposed solutions but also on timing. Thus, the notion of ripe moments and mutually hurting stalemates (MHS), which is anchored on the symbiotic relationship between them. But do the Duterte promise and the CPP’s initial positive response suggest a ripe moment based on mutually perceived hurt from a stalemate?

There are three conditions for the symbiosis to become real:

First, do the parties perceive the moment as ripe based on evidence? In Zartman’s view, ripeness is present when both parties perceive the hurt even if the evidence is flimsy.

Second, is there a way out of the zero sum game? Is peaceful negotiation with substance perceived as a beneficial way out?

Third, is there a strong and legitimate leadership that guarantees fulfillment of agreements?

Peace advocates share the challenge of analyzing the same conditions required of ripeness. The urge does not come mainly from the desire to end and transform the conflict. The urge should come from their self-assessment of the ripeness to intervene and contribute to the peace push.

The South African peace deal in 1994 stands out as a monument of ripeness and the MHS that started in the late 1980s. The African National Congress (ANC) was not in a position to seize power despite its ability to cripple the political establishment and economic system. On the other hand, the white government was not in a position to sustain itself and demolish the ANC, which had deeply embedded itself in the anti-apartheid social movement. Both parties mutually perceived the hurting stalemate.

The mining sector of the business community seized the moment and came in as a neutral low-key facilitator. Without preconditions, both parties engaged in informal talks, constantly spurred by the perception that it was the ripe moment. The peace deal was achieved without the formalities of a peace agreement. The resolution was shaped through patient exchanges away from media attention. When it was done, the peace deal was thrown back to the public, and the elections decided that the white government had to give way to a new dispensation.

But ripeness is not just a product of indeterminate, bloody, and costly escalation. It is also contextual and may present itself as a blessing in disguise. The 2005 Helsinki peace agreement (officially named as a Memorandum of Understanding) between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement or GAM was triggered by the mutual hurt from the 2004 Tsunami. The 2006 Peace Agreement between the Government of Nepal and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) was precipitated by the crisis and eventual collapse of a centuries-old monarchy.

The Philippine case is a Gordian knot.

The almost half-century insurgency of the CPP-NPA would tempt a non-participant or an affected party to say enough is enough. But does the CPP feel the hurt of a long stalemate?

After reaching a peak in 1987 and downward slide since then, the hurt tends to drive resurgence more than rethinking or an ideological pause. Protracted people’s war and seizure of power still underpin the behavior towards peace negotiations.

Duterte’s bold offers have engendered mixed reactions and interpretations. Senator-elect Risa Hontiveros expresses caution, based on lack of evidence of sincerity on the part of the CPP. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje welcomes the idea and puts forward his view that the NPA, with legitimized gun possession, would be effective guardians of the forest.

Regardless of perception, an opportunity arises from the Duterte stance. But this opportunity is vulnerable to being spoiled by the cacophony of unilateral public statements.

The opportunity may not last long, either. Ripe moments are easily lost when battle lines are marked through the media instead of the negotiating table.

Learning from the South African process, the two parties can immediately prepare the ground for resumption of talks and move them away from offensives and counter-offensives through the media.

Pending the formal assumption to power and placement of new leaderships in the Executive, the Duterte camp can tap a neutral think group to help shape the format and content of the peace negotiations. It should be a multi-stakeholder group that includes minds from the academe, civil society, business, and those familiar with the workings of the legislative and judicial institutions. Once mandated, the think should do its homework in gaining acceptance of the CPP-NPA.

Ed Quitoriano is an independent risk and conflict analyst and a consultant to International Alert-Philippines.

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