AT THE start of his administration, President Rody Duterte was confident of signing a peace agreement with the CPP-NDF in three to six months.
He was counting on his rapport with former UP professor Joma Sison and the de facto truce he had forged on the ground, while mayor of Davao City, to end almost 50 years of fighting.
As a unilateral peace offering, Duterte even invited personalities identified with the left into his Cabinet. Some 20 top political prisoners were also released to serve as consultants of the CPP-NDF negotiating panel.
Subsequent events convinced Duterte that peace would not come as easy as that. At least in so far as the CPP-NDF is concerned, Duterte now realistically believes that peace will not come in this generation.
Even as he gave the go-signal last week for the government panel to resume formal peace talks in The Netherlands, observers greeted the news with guarded optimism. And it was not difficult to understand why.
While both groups from opposite sides of the table profess to pursue a lasting and just peace, they are poles apart in terms of bargaining position.
While the government panel has been instructed to negotiate a bilateral ceasefire, the CPP-NDF insists first on the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) before any bilateral ceasefire agreement.
There are other side issues being raised by the CPP-NDF, among them, alleged human rights violations during the war on drugs, and the return of the Marcos family to politics.
President Rody calls certain demands of the CPP-NDF as “impossible,” such as the release of all remaining political prisoners, numbering about 400.
The CPP-NDF, on the other hand, has tagged certain government officials as “spoilers” of the peace process.
Still, negotiators find occasion to agree on baby-step confidence-building measures. An example is the proposed exchange of prisoners. The CPP-NDF proposes to release four prisoners in NPA custody in exchange for 23 prisoners detained by the government.
But even the implementation of such prisoner exchange can be very complicated. The CPP-NDF demands that the government impose a ten-day suspension of military and police operations in areas where the exchanges are to take place.
These areas cover parts of Bukidnon, Surigao Del Norte, Agusan Del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato.
To the soldiers and policemen on the ground, (who often found themselves on the receiving end during suspension of hostilities) that would be a hard sell.
But as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
Here’s hoping that it will not be one step forward, two steps backward.
Unforgettable ceasefires in history
I recently came across in You Tube a very touching video clip based a true-to- life ceasefire which occurred in 1917, almost 100 years ago, at the Western Front.
The episode has come to be known as The Christmas Truce of 1914.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 has inspired books, plays and a super-viral commercial for UK supermarket chain Sainsburys.
It was Christmas eve. Temperature had dropped below freezing. Weary British and German soldiers were resting in their muddy trenches, reading letters and opening gifts from home.
A British soldier started singing “Silent Night” and was soon joined by his comrades. A couple of hundred yards across No Man’s Land, the Germans responded with Stille Nacht!"
Overcome with emotion, Jim, a British soldier, came out of the trenches with arms raised and started walking toward the German lines. The German soldiers initially levelled their rifles at Jim but were prevailed upon by Otto. Otto himself came out of the trenches with arms raised to meet Jim.
Soon soldiers from both sides streamed out of their trenches and met halfway in the open field.
There they shook hands, showed each other pictures of their loved ones and even exchanged gifts.
One brought out a football and an impromptu match followed.
Halfway through, the soldiers heard guns in the distance, reminding everyone that a war was still going on. Reluctantly, they went back to their respective trenches.
Back in his trench, Jim discovers that Otto had gifted him with German toast. In return, Otto received a bar of chocolate.
During the 1960s, soccer legend Pele and his Brazilian Team Santos visited civil war-torn Nigeria to play an exhibition match. The warring groups immediately agreed to a truce so they could watch the legendary Black Pearl in action.
The military even opened heavily guarded checkpoints so that people could make their way to the big game.
48 hours later, the warring factions got right back to killing each other. Nigeria eventually quelled the break-away Biafrans.
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