The Long View: Frog and scorpion fight

Frog and scorpion fight

In September last year, Pierre Rousset writing in Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières observed that President Duterte had created a coalition of the Right and Left (with Joel Maglunsod in the labor department, Judy Taguiwalo in social welfare, Rafael Mariano in agrarian reform, and Liza Maza in the antipoverty commission, as the nominees of the communists).

Rousset noted: “(Duterte) does not have a power base of his own; to survive, he conducts a permanent war of movement.”

The President did invest prestige and political capital in the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front. The problem: His gamble was based on two difficult premises: first, the talks concluding swiftly as it would be impossible to keep rightists at bay forever; second, that there was an equal commitment from the unified leadership of the communists.

The first proved impossible because the communists demanded that captured comrades be released first, even as the President repeatedly and forthrightly declared that a deal had to come first, otherwise the other parts of his coalition would be difficult to control.

The second failed because, (per Rousset) his overtures were made to Jose Ma. Sison who was only a titular leader. The communists were divided on the question of talks. Rousset says Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, the real leaders of the communists at home, eventually agreed to the talks “simply hoping that Duterte will take practical steps to implement his policy of independence vis-à-vis the United States,” while one can infer Sison and friends were genuinely hoping for some sort of a coalition government to come about.

Other factors were at play—e.g., the war on drugs, the CPP, according to Rousset, “even offering to contribute to it.” Sison for his part tried to reciprocate by using his own prestige to downplay objections to human rights abuses: He said some objected; but he himself did not say he did, and he criticized Obama’s criticisms. In the end, the communists could not risk being too quiet on these matters.

Last January, articulating the official position of the movement he belongs to, Teddy Casiño, said they have no illusions about the President, but hoped their collaboration would tip the balance in government. They would “formally” oppose things like the war on drugs and the Marcos burial while remaining engaged.

Rigoberto Tiglao, who knows whereof he speaks (having been in the movement and in the innermost circles of government), wrote something interesting: It was the NPA attack on the Pico de Loro resort on Jan. 29, not the ambush on soldiers in Davao del Sur on Feb. 1, that convinced the President “that the peace talks with the NDF were useless, and that the communists were just making a fool out of him.”

Tiglao’s article clinically dissects the communist movement and the military top brass. The communists, he says, are a kind of confederation of regional associations, with two “centers”: the group that manages its party-list representatives and the exiles led by Jose Ma. Sison in the Netherlands, who are tolerated because of their ability to raise funds from socialists abroad. The regional commands, which “enjoy their de facto fiefdoms in the guerrilla areas they control,” tolerate peace talks because the wind-down of military operations for the duration allow the NPA to tax its territories in peace.

As for the AFP, Tiglao believes its top brass is risk-averse. Lacking full political support from presidents to wipe out the communists and because they attain regional commands prior to retirement, generals are loath to stir up trouble and avoid actively pursuing the NPA especially since there is no assurance they will be safe from retaliation once they retire.

A familiar story: A scorpion hitches a ride across a river on a frog, which skeptically says you will sting me, to which the scorpion soothingly replies, “Of course not, if I did so, we will both drown. So the frog obliges; halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog, telling it, as both proceed to drown, “I couldn’t help myself, it’s in my nature.” Which ignores the possibility that the frog was looking forward to snacking on the scorpion once they reached shore.


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Manuel L. Quezon III.

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