Philippines’ Duterte Seeks Peace

Exclusive: Filipino President Duterte oversaw a brutal anti-drug campaign but is now seeking peace with leftist revolutionaries and rejecting U.S. pressure for more counterinsurgency warfare, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

In April 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidential election by a landslide, with more than 6 million votes. He openly declared that he was the nation’s first Left president, calling himself a socialist but not a communist. So far, his regime has been controversial, to put it mildly.

The U.S. press has focused on Duterte’s vicious war on drugs that  claimed upwards of 2,000 lives and led to the incarceration of tens of thousands of people. His decision to allow former Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s burial in the National Cemetery of the Heroes also has drawn the ire of those who recall Marcos’s brutal two-decade regime that killed more than 3,000, tortured tens of thousands, and stole $10 billion from the Philippines.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo credit: rodrigo-duterte.com)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo credit: rodrigo-duterte.com)

But, significantly, Duterte is engaging with revolutionary forces in the peace process that aims to end 47 years of armed struggle against the repressive Filipino government. And Duterte has taken actions that, for the first time, challenge the longstanding military and economic power of the United States in the Philippines.

Peace Process With Opposition

Since 1969, a civil war has been raging in the Philippines. The roots of the armed conflict can be traced to the colonial and neocolonial domination of the Philippines by the Spanish, then U.S. imperialism, feudal exploitation by big landlords and capitalist interests, as well as widespread bureaucratic corruption. After Duterte’s election, he cited peace as a top priority of his administration, vowing to engage in peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

According to JustPeacePH, an international platform that supports the Philippine peace process and takes its name from its Internet site, “justpeace.ph,” “The daily, systematic and systemic injustice experienced by the people drive them to desire and seek fundamental changes in society through various means. But because the forces against fundamental social change use all means including the instruments and violence of the state to defend the status quo, many Filipinos over many generations have embraced armed struggle to overthrow the ruling system.”

The NDFP “is the alliance of progressive forces seeking to bring about fundamental change in the existing social system in the Philippines through armed revolution,” JustPeacePH states in its Primer on Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines. The NDFP alliance includes trade unions, peasants, youth, women, national minorities, teachers, health workers, religious clergy, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and the New People’s Army.

Duterte’s Peace Initiative

Two rounds of peace negotiations have already occurred since Duterte took office, with a third scheduled for January 2017 in Oslo, Norway.

In May, Duterte declared he would release all political prisoners, which number more than 400, through a presidential declaration of amnesty, provided both houses of congress approve. Nineteen NDFP consultants, who have been involved in the revolutionary movement for years, have already been released.

Duterte offered four cabinet positions to the CPP, but they declined, stating there must first be a comprehensive peace agreement. The CPP, however, recommended a veteran peasant leader who was appointed Secretary of Agrarian Reform and a veteran academic activist leader who was named secretary of social welfare and development.

“These are major appointments,” Luis Jalandoni, NDFP’s Senior Adviser on the Peace Negotiating Panel, told me at a recent conference of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers in Lisbon, Portugal.

NDFP has a people’s army and organs of political power with mass organizations in 71 out of the 81 provinces in the country, Jalandoni said. He noted that landlessness and poverty afflict the 100 million people in the Philippines.

“The NDFP insists on addressing the roots of the armed conflict in order to achieve a just and lasting peace,” Jalandoni said.

The demands in the peace talks are: Release of all political prisoners; Land reform for the peasantry (70% of the population); National industrialization to develop the economy using available human and natural resources; Protect the environment and ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples; and Philippine national sovereignty and abrogation of all unequal treaties with the United States.

Challenging U.S. Power

U.S. domination and interference in the Philippines date back to 1898, when the United States annexed the Philippines. The U.S. continued to exercise colonial rule over the country until 1946, when the Philippines gained its independence although the United States retained many military installations there and the Filipino economy maintained its dependence on the U.S.

President George W. Bush announcing the start of his invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.

President George W. Bush, seen announcing the start of his invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, included the Philippines in his “global war on terror.”

With U.S. assistance, Marcos ruled the Philippines with an iron fist from 1965 through 1986, under martial law from 1972 to 1981. In 2002, the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government developed Oplan Bayanihan, a counterinsurgency program modeled on U.S. strategies. After 9/11, the Bush administration gave Arroyo $100 million to fund that campaign in the Philippines.

Oplan Bayanihan led to large numbers of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cruel treatment. Many civilians, including children, have been killed. Philippine military and paramilitary death squads murdered hundreds of members of progressive organizations. Communities and leaders opposed to large-scale and invasive mining have been targeted. Even ordinary people with no political affiliation have not escaped the government’s reign of terror.

From 2001 to 2010, the U.S. government provided more than $507 in military assistance to the Philippine government, facilitating tremendous repression.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Philippine police, military and paramilitary forces perpetrated extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and forced evacuation, many to enable extraction by mining companies.

The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which President Barack Obama negotiated with Duterte’s predecessor, gave U.S. troops the right to prolonged deployment in the Philippines. The agreement is widely seen in the Philippines as a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

In September 2016, Duterte declared, “I am not a fan of the Americans … Filipinos should be first before everybody else.” He added, “In our relations to the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy. I repeat: The Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy.”

The United States has not apologized for all the atrocities it committed against the Filipino people, Duterte said. Responding to U.S. criticism of the Philippines for its human rights violations, he stated, “Why are you Americans killing the black people there, shooting them down when they are already on the ground.”

Duterte promised to end joint military maneuvers with U.S. forces and expel the hundreds of U.S. troops currently stationed in the Philippines. He also expressed his intention to end bilateral agreements concluded by his predecessor with the United States and reverse permission for the United States’ use of five Philippine military bases.

“I will break up with America,” Duterte said. “I would rather go to Russia and to China.” He vowed to rescind joint patrols with U.S. and Filipino forces against Chinese expansion in the disputed South China Sea. Indeed, Duterte recently traveled to China and secured valuable fishing rights for Filipinos in the South China Sea.

Hope for Peace Prospects

In an unprecedented development, both the government and the opposition declared unilateral ceasefires in August. But there are still problems with the government’s ceasefire, says Jalandoni, as Duterte doesn’t have full control of the military. The military and paramilitary forces, which are protected by the military, have engaged in several violations that imperil the ceasefire, he said.

“There is high optimism that the peace talks will prosper under the presidency of Duterte,” according to JustPeacePH. “Unlike past presidents who harbor strong anti-communist bias, Duterte seems capable of rethinking the government’s peace strategy since he claims to be a socialist.”

Opposition forces are not uncritical of the excesses in Duterte’s war on drugs. The CPP declared the campaign is becoming anti-people and anti-democratic. Due process must be respected, human rights must be upheld; the drug users and small drug dealers, who come from poverty, require rehabilitation and care, the CPP maintains.

“Understandably, Duterte’s war on drugs and other crimes is given more coverage by the global media,” JustPeacePH wrote in its primer. “But Duterte’s aim to establish a lasting peace in the provinces deserves even more attention as this strikes at the root causes of the problem of illegal drugs and related crimes.”

Jalandoni said, “Duterte is not a saint but he stands for an independent foreign policy. His stand against the United States is respected and has received a lot of support.”

The NDFP, Jalandoni noted, says that “if there are threats against Duterte by U.S. imperialism, the Left will be a reliable ally to him,” adding, “He is the first president to stand up to the United States.”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. She is a member of the International Legal Assistance Team that advises the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on human rights and humanitarian law in their peace negotiations. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn.

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15 comments for “Philippines’ Duterte Seeks Peace

  1. malcolm kyle
    November 25, 2016 at 10:07 am

    The Rome Statute defines murder or persecution that is knowingly “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population” as a crime against humanity. The wide-scale extrajudicial killings carried out under Duterte’s orders meet that definition. Duterte and many of his entourage will soon stand trial in the International Court of The Hague for the unlawful murder of many thousands of civilians.

    An elected government should not declare war and militarize against its own people. Historically, the use of deadly force to address/prohibit peaceful, consensual transactions between adults, such as gambling, prostitution, drug/alcohol use/sales, has only ever produced negative results. Such a violent crusade against civilians invariably evolves into a full-blown civil war.

    With Duterte’s blessing, members of the police special forces disguise themselves with wigs and masks, operate in tandem on motorbikes, and murder known anti-crime crusaders. After completing their killing mission, they flee under the cover of darkness, only to appear the next day to hold a press conference. These same special forces then claim that drug dealers are behind the killings. The public agree and the killings duly continue ad infinitum, and with total impunity.
    Kindly google: “2 Cops Kill Anticrime Crusader in Mindoro”

    Dear people of the Philippines:

    It is now obvious (at least to the rest of humanity) that you have foolishly elected a psychotic despot for president. A darkness has engulfed your whole nation. You no longer have due process, constitutionally protected rights or fair trials in a public forum. Suspicion or rumor is now all that’s required to terminate the life of any citizen with a state-sanctioned death squad.

    Nowhere on this planet has any nation ever had success with the policy of drug prohibition. Many of your villages, towns and cities will be turned into killing fields. Hundreds of thousands of you may now die. Your most precious institutions and possessions will be destroyed—but the drugs, the corruption and the violence will still be there. And the world will finally realize how dangerous and destructive prohibition really is.

    You are actually in the process of destroying your own society and nothing can change your fate. Every one of you is now vulnerable to deadly attack. Right here n the Philippines, drug prohibition has finally reached its inevitable blood-drenched conclusion.

    Thank you for helping to teach the world this powerful lesson with the blood of your own families!

    • Bill Bodden
      November 25, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      Duterte and many of his entourage will soon stand trial in the International Court of The Hague for the unlawful murder of many thousands of civilians.

      Any predictions on when the ICC will prosecute alleged American crimes? “US armed forces and the CIA may have committed war crimes by torturing detainees in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says in a recent report, raising the possibility that US citizens could be indicted.” – http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/25/torture-charges-against-the-us-considered-by-international-criminal-court/

  2. evelync
    November 25, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Thank you Marjorie Cohn.
    Any shift away from the delusional Cold War ideology that has left so many millions of victims in its wake is very welcome.
    It has hurt the people of this country and people around the world.
    I hope that this shift away from violence and militarism continues.
    Having read Hajimu Masuda’s 2015 “Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015)” and his article:
    http://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2015/02/social-politics-imagined-realities-masuda-hajimu.html
    it is clear that these failed policies have lost any credibility.

    I think we need the men and women serving overseas to be deployed back home to join working people here to rebuild our infrastructure and help shift the country to renewable energy using solar and wind before Climate Change makes the planet uninhabitable for future generations.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    November 25, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Watching how Duterte conducts his country’s actions by confronting America the way he does, makes me think of how he will be the first among many to do this independent maneuver. Read Tony Cartalucci regarding Thailand and Malaysia. It would be wise for the U.S. to create valuable jobs, and grow a bit independent, forget this empire business, and prepare to become just a country. America has conducted itself shamelessly while retaining the title of world leader, and now it is time for decline, and rejection. America must join the rest of the world, and end it’s domination policy America has so enforced on so many nations over these last few decades. It’s time to come home America.

  4. Erik
    November 25, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Very interesting. It would be interesting to hear the status of peacemaking efforts with the Islamic insurgency in Mindanao in the southern Philippines, which is longstanding and presumably more difficult than peace with the left.

    Also useful to hear the full story behind the drug war there, the connection with warlords or the Islamic insurgents, their connection with any prior government corruption. It would be surprising if the US really urged moderation of a drug war.

    • November 26, 2016 at 3:38 am

      the wahabist militant front in the Philippines may soon find a valuable ally in washington, same as wahabist militants in Syria, and Lybia have.

      • Erik
        November 26, 2016 at 5:39 pm

        It would be interesting to find what the neocon excuse might be there, although China and Russia are both challenged by Islamic fundamentalism. Perhaps it would be just Brezinski troublemaking under the guise of containment of non-aggressors. Certainly for them the Pacific could not be nearly wide enough for defense purposes, nor mutually beneficial trade a sufficient incentive for peace.

  5. E Wright
    November 25, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Good summary. No mention was made though of the Moro National Islamic Front or the MNLF who will be more difficult to deal with. A move towards a federalist system giving semi-independence to Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao would seem to be the only way forward in the long run, with Mindanao seceding to the Islamic sphere. Focus could then be given to dismantling the corrupt Hacienda system in Luzon.

    Unfortunately his overtures towards China will invite the wrong type of investment. Chinese investors will just want to buy out the Haciendas without a desire to change anything.

  6. Bill Bodden
    November 25, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    The U.S. press has focused on Duterte’s vicious war on drugs that claimed upwards of 2,000 lives and led to the incarceration of tens of thousands of people.

    The U.S. press has a long history of lying about events in the Philippines and elsewhere.

  7. Bill Bodden
    November 25, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    The United States has not apologized for all the atrocities it committed against the Filipino people,…

    Standard Operating Procedure.

  8. ltr
    November 25, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Important essay on a development completely overlooked by the main American media organizations so far as I can tell.

  9. Joe Lauria
    November 26, 2016 at 5:31 am

    Excellent report Marjorie…

  10. Juan Liwanag
    November 26, 2016 at 5:32 am

    An adviser to the communist ndf, the communist party of the Philippines. I can not agree but a spin news to destroy the very free thinking Prsedident Duterte. Anything and everything about Marcos and Duterte will never be good to the oligarchs yellow media.

  11. exiled off mainstreet
    November 26, 2016 at 11:44 am

    This is an excellent report about a significant change that deviates from the official line. Anything that increases multipolarity and decreases globalist imperialism is a step forward despite regressive elements. Let’s hope that scope exists for similar independence developments in the “western” world.

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