Philippine peace talks underway

When
Philippine Maoist guerrillas massed in a rare public show of force more than a
month ago, their 63-year-old communist leader pointed to the young faces of the
rebel unit, and said: “I’m happy knowing that with them, the rebellion will go
on.”

Yet
thousands of miles away in Oslo, formal talks between Manila and the communist
rebels are underway under the auspices of the Norwegian government.

The
aim is to end one of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgencies, one that is
still hindering efforts to exploit the country’s rich natural resources.

Like
the Maoist New People’s Army’s “protracted people’s war” that has lasted more
than four decades, the peace talks already risk turning into a prolonged
process.

The
government’s chief negotiator, Alexander Padilla, has said he wants to conclude
the negotiations, which first began in 1987, in three years.

But
the subject matter and timetable of the talks suggest a quick end to the
discussions is unlikely.

Disarmament
and demobilisation will be the last to be tackled, and only after substantial
agreements on so-called “socio-economic reforms” and “political and
constitutional reforms”.

The
communist party wants reforms that reflect its core principles, such as
break-up of large landholdings for distribution to tillers, a nationalist industrialisation
programme that will limit the role of foreign capital, and an end to the money
and patronage-driven electoral system that keeps political dynasties in power.

 

Many
political observers are doubtful that a settlement is possible before President
Benigno Aquino III’s six-year term ends in 2016.

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