Philippines braces for possible collapse of peace talks with communist rebels

The Communist group formally launched their oust Duterte operation to culminate in October 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2018

Philippines braces for possible collapse of peace talks with communist rebels

  • Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana backs the termination of the increasingly problematic peace negotiations
  • The problem with the other side is they’re asking things that the government can not give them, says Defense Department spokesman.

MANILA: The Philippine government is bracing for the possible collapse of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF), the Defense Department said Monday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana backs the termination of the increasingly problematic peace negotiations with the rebel group. He cites the latter’s plan to oust President Rodrigo Duterte as among the main reasons to end the talks.
In a statement, Lorenzana said Sunday they found out that during the last unilateral cease-fire covering the period 2016 until January 2017, “the CPP/NDF held the largest and the 2nd People’s Congress in October to November 2016 and the Central Committee Plenum on December 2016.”
According to the defense chief, It was during these two occasions that the rebel group’s three-year plan to “advance the revolutionary movement, which included the planning for the Oust Duterte Movement” if the president did not agree to a coalition government, was crafted.
On May 2017, the Communist group formally launched their oust Duterte operation to culminate in October 2018, Lorenzana continued.
He also accused the communist rebels of using the cease-fire to consolidate and recover their lost ground and expand their influence.
Lorenzana likewise cited the CPP/NDF/NPA’s failure to comply with the four preconditions by Duterte so they could go back to the negotiating table, which to the president is a sign of insincerity on the part of the rebels. Duterte’s four preconditions to the Reds are: No coalition government; no arson/attacks, no revolutionary tax/extortion; no permission to stay in safe areas of their choice; and no recruitment/mass mobilization.
Further, Lorenzana pointed out that the CPP-NPA have been tagged as a terrorist organization locally and Internationally.
“They had their chance to work for peace when President Duterte appointed four of their members to the Cabinet. But they betrayed the government when they used their positions to advance the CPP’s revolutionary movement,” the defense chief said.
In an interview, Arsenio Andolong, spokesman for the Defense Department, told Arab News that given the reasons cited here, Lorenzana is now considering advising to the president to end the negotiations between the government and the communist rebels.
“The problem with the other side is they’re asking things that the government can not give them. Like a coalition government, that’s out of the question. It’s the biggest issue but we only have one government,” Andolong stressed.
“If they persist in pushing for those demands, then that may become a problem, and here in the Department of National Defense we are preparing for any eventuality,” he added.
Andolong emphasized, however, that the government wants to have the peace talks to finally end the nearly half-century communist rebellion. “But there has to be a reality check for those on the other side,” he said, adding that the president has already bent backward in his desire to have just and lasting peace in the country.
And while they’re looking at the possibility of a collapse of the talks, Andolong said the government will still pursue the negotiations but on a local level.
“Logic dictates that perhaps we can work out better agreements on the ground if we engage directly the leaders (in the field and no longer with CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison and the NDF),” he added.
Andolong went on to say that those in the Defense Department and the military are being portrayed as an entity that’s intent on wiping them (the communist rebels) out. “That’s not it,” he said.
“No one detests war more than a soldier because he has to be the one to fight it,” Andolong pointed out, quoting US General Douglas MacArthur.
“I think our soldiers are not any different. I think they’d rather be home with their families ... rather than staying out in the jungles and fighting fellow Filipinos. So we in the department, we still want peace. We wanted it yesterday but the problem is the other side doesn’t seem to have the same concept of how peace should be,” he added.
Still, he said, should the peace talks collapse, “in terms of internal security operations we are pretty much ready.
“We don’t want to end the peace talks but how can you work out an agreement if you cannot agree on terms? That’s the purpose of negotiation. If you are hard line with your stance, we will not achieve anything,” said the defense spokesman.
The Communist rebels accused Duterte of being the biggest spoiler of the peace process, and Lorenzana of being a war promoter.
“Gen. Lorenzana, defense secretary, has elaborated the anti-peace talks policy of the Duterte regime ... Indeed, for quite a while now, it has been Lorenzana, who has in fact, been defining the Duterte regime’s true anti-peace policy based on his one-track militarist mindset,” the CPP said in a statement.
“To Lorenzana and his ilk of fascists, including Duterte himself, the only solution to the civil war in the country is the military solution. This is the old 1930s dogma promoted by the US military, which sees profit in every war it instigates and foments,” they added.
“Lorenzana is a war promoter and consummate militarist. He wants no non-military end to the civil war in the Philippines. He fears losing significance if the present civil war in the country is settled politically through peace negotiations,” the CPP added.


School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

Updated 28 sec ago

School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

  • Far-right politician Julien Odoul asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to a regional parliament to remove her headscarf
  • The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism

PARIS: A new row over secularism and the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public buildings has erupted in France after a far-right politician asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to remove her headscarf.
The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism in the public sector, including schools.
Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.
Citing “secular principles” in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalized convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.
Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation.”
But many, including regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticized Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.
Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behavior” on the part of a lawmaker.
With the RN playing up the issue, the controversy has exposed divisions within the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron which is keenly aware Marine Le Pen’s faction is its chief political foe.
Even the country’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer seemed unable to pick a side, stressing Sunday that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children,” while saying “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye also weighed in, saying it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear headscarves and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity.”
But Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire came to the defense of “a culture in which religion remains in the intimate, private sphere and does not have a place in (the) public sphere.”
And Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin added: “I would prefer that women in the Republic, in France, do not wear a headscarf.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament he was opposed to any kind of new law specifically targeting what should be worn on school trips.
The controversy is the latest in France over face and body-covering garments which many perceive as inappropriate in a secular country while others argue the garments allow Muslim women to be active participants in French society.
The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.
In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab — a garment that covers a woman’s hair but leaves her face exposed — from classrooms and government offices.
The country with Europe’s largest Muslim population is also deeply divided over the body-concealing “burkini” swimsuit, with opposition to the garment forcing the closure of some swimming pools earlier this year in the midst of a heatwave.
Also this year, French sports retailer Decathlon was forced by public pressure to back down from a plan to sell a runner’s hijab in France.
An opinion poll released on Monday found that two in three French people are in favor of prohibiting parents accompanying kids on school trips from wearing visible religious symbols.
France does not officially collect data on religious affiliation but is believed to have a Muslim population of just under 10 percent. Not all are observant.
A study published in September by the IFOP polling group found that more than half of Muslim men questioned said they went to the mosque every Friday, compared to about one in five women.
The upper house of parliament, the Senate, will discuss the subject as early as next week, with a committee examining a draft law seeking to “ensure the religious neutrality of people who contribute to the public service of education.”