Guerilla warfare and love

Conflict in the Philippines

19 released prisoners who are in Holmenkollen, Oslo can be the key to have peace in the Philippines.

26 August 2016, MORGENBLADET, Written by Elida Høeg and Herman Dreyer (translated)

Caption: Couple Wilma and Benito Tiamzon are leaders of the outlawed communist movement CPP. They were released from prison so that they could participate on the peacetalk in Oslo this week.

It is easy to forget that the two delegates, who now crack jokes and blow kisses, with their nameplates in Holmenkollen Park Hotel, are in the armed struggle and have been there for 47 years.  But it is also the same with representatives from the Philippine government and the country’s communist guerilla who became familiar with –peace negotiations between them which already started at the end of 80s. It created the framework for the agreement in 1992 but since then the negotiations had been formally broken down, became inoperative for many times, and the last was 5 years ago. Last Monday this week the negotiation started, and the Morgenbladet  got hold of it blow-by-blow.

The objective of the talk is to achieve lasting peace between the Philippine government and the communist guerilla – and to end the class society, anyhow, it is the plan of the communist delegations who sit on the left. But first, it will be the foreign minister Børge Brende who  will deliver the speech. Norway has invited the whole bunch for the week’s peacetalk which is being held overviewing the Oslo fjord.

They all stand up when Brende takes the conference microphone.

(- means direct quotation)

-  I believe that there is tension in the room, he says.

- But this is a positive tension.

The delegates nod and smile. One of them has closed his eyes, but it is difficult to see if he sees the good vibration or he is tired; it has been a long flight.  However, the opening of the negotiation is in the small conference room called Nobel which is historic.  The delegations of the communist movement who are seated at the back are groups of political detainees, who have been released to participate the negotiation.  It can be such the source of peace from, particularly when two of them are the Philippine communist movement’s top leaders: the couple Wilma and Benito Tiamzon. They got applause from the crowd/assembly, being requested by one of the government’s representatives, and it is taken cautiously.

-I want to have peace while I am still alive, says the Philippine Presidential special adviser for peace, Jesus Dureza, who is almost 70 years old. He is ready to give goodwill to the leftistdelegation.

Good Atmosphere.The agenda includes ceasefire, disposition of armed forces, release of the prisoners and a timetable for future negotiations. The communist movement will also bring forward several political, economic and constitutional reforms. Most of the delegates are wearing barong tagalog, the national costume which according to Dureza   will be a symbolic representation of unity of views on the conflict.  Brende realizes that his black suit does not fit the occasion. Elizabeth Slåttum, Norway’s special envoy to the Philippine peace process has known it and she dresses herself in white. She opens with greetings in tagalog, to the great delight of the Filipino journalists in the room; and she is thankful for both of the delegations for their “hardwork and cheerful disposition”.

  • You are making me blush, answers Slåttum who knows the contending parties well after she has had meetings with them since 2014.

After Brende has received the gifts from Davao’s mayor twice- one in real and one for photo-ops, the Tiamzon couple and the rest of the representatives of umbrella organization NDFP raise their fist in front of the international press corps. So the negotiation has begun.

Serious/solemn week. The Philippine communist movement started the revolution in 1969 which was a reaction to the dictator Ferdinand Marcos rule. Between1965 to 1986, the dictator’s regime took 30,000 to 150,000 peoples lives – the figure varies if one asks the government or human rights organizations.

It was Jose Maria Sison “beloved/devoted warrior/fighter” who founded that it would be a maoist, armed revolution for the communist CPP in 1968. A year later the armed wing NPA was founded to launch the armed struggle. In the 1980s the NPA had almost 30,000 soldiers; now it is down to 4000 soldiers but it never gives up. Sison is still the movement’s ideological leader, who has a little bit problem on hearing, and sits in front of the negotiating table at the Homenkollen hotel.  In addition, he was also the teacher at the university of the present Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

  • I hope that he remembers some of what we discussed in the classroom,says Sison and he laughs.

When Rodrigo Duterte took over the presidency in June this year, he was likened by the Norwegian media with Donald Trump because of their hostile attitude toward women and rhetoric on rape.  The UN accuses him this week of impunity on the 1800 deaths without due process in his campaign against drugs. Duterte threatens that it will pull out the Philippines of the whole organization.  He has been portrayed in international media as a loose cannon.  At the same time, he is the biggest reason now that binds the real hope for a peace agreement in the Philippines. Duterte calls himself a socialist who has an anti-poverty campaign in his government program; and he has said that he will meet the communist movement’s demands on social and economic reforms.

  • Duterte has released our comrades so that they can participate with the negotiation. It shows that he is sincere. While the previous presidents have tried for the revolutionary movement to capitulate, Duterte will talk to us, Sison says.

Reunion and visions. The 77 year old warrior/fighter  Sison who writes poetry and pamphlets from Europe was especially happy to see again the couple Tiamzon , whom he has never seen for 30 years. Sison has been in exile in the Netherlands since 1987 while Wilma and Benito are in the underground who accordingly are general-secretary and chairman of the outlawed communist party CPP. He was welcomed by the couple when Sison went out of prison after the fall of Marcos regime. Now it is the reverse: The two were freed on Friday after being jailed for more than two years, and now being hugged by Sison in Holmenkollen. Wilma and Benito Tiamzon were arrested for killing, kidnapping and illegal possession of weapon which they and NDFP claim that all are trumped-up charges.

  • Imprisonment had its political motives, says Wilma Tiamzon.
  • We are now ready to negotiate for a more just society in the Philippines.
  • She and her husband complete each other sentences when they talk, hold hands and talk unaccustomed ideology.They talk about for the betterment of circumstances of the poor, exploited workers, land reform distribution to the farmers and national industrialization which are some of the most important demands in the negotiation.
  • We want that people can use their talents for the Philippines, not to have household job in the foreign land, says Wilma Tiamzon.
  • There will be no peace before we have these reforms within our reach, says the husband.

The two know the press, when one sees for the peace agreement between the left oriented guerillas and governments around the world, there is  a condition for structural changes, even if it is only maybe written in the paper. As regards to possible peace in the Philippines, it will smooth the differences; it depends on how radical President Duterte  shows himself when the contents of reforms will be discussed.

There will be no peace until we have these reforms within our reach. Benito Tiamzon, leader together with his wife Wilma, Communist Movement CPP

Norwegian overconfidence. Norway has been involved as the facilitator for the peace negotiation in the Philippines since 2001. Norway by coincidence has had exaggerated its belief on its destiny to create peace. It is one of Ada Nissen conclusions in her doctoral dissertation about the Norwegian peace engagement in the last 25 years. According to Nissen, Norwegian diplomats have been good to draw on contending parties to the negotiating table, among others to appear harmless and casual, but they have not always do well.

-When it comes to tug-of-war on difficult problems like territorial and ownership (literal: self-ownership;sariling pag-aari/sariling benepisyo), or how the guerillas and military will integrate in the society after the conflict, I have seen that Norway lacks the means that can contribute to persuade the parties to choose the right direction. This can be a good thing but it can also be dangerous, she says

- Nissen who contributes in the book Peace mediation in teory and practice  which will be coming out next week points out that if power/strength relation/condition is uneven between the parties before, it can end up with the strongest party’s premises. She says that new research shows that strong mediations that can put on more pressures to parties, have better chances to have a sustainable peace agreement to successful close.

-In the decade of 1990 and early 2000s, Norway presided with overconfidence as peace mediator but it gradually has had several processes for itself. It has begun to accept which limitations it has as a small state (country).

Last bus with guerilla leaders. Four Philippine tv-channels are in the place when the country’s longest conflict will try to find solution, and many of them are equip with cameras/tripods, coffee and cigarettes when the last batch of the released political detainees will soon be arriving in the hotel. The group did not get the passports ready in time, and comes one day after the negotiation has begun. A black minibus with soot that makes mess rolled up in front of the hotel; and all the journalists swarm in with their cameras and microphones. The door opens—and the frustration becomes bigger when a couple of American tourists stumble to the grass to take pictures of the view. When are they really coming? The last delegates come out of the light gray bus, not after waiting for some hours; and it doesn’t take long before they pose in front of the reception with their fist clenched up. They are being rushed at the hotel by the Norwegian organizer, right in to the negotiation. So is the lunch.

Smoked salmon and reforms.  These five days at Holmenkollen Park Hotel are only the beginning/starting shot for the negotiation which will take progress for the months ahead. Most of the delegates are holding back to say something about when the peace agreement can be within the reached.

  • We are not sure that this will go all the way; but for the time being, it is very good, says special envoy Elizabeth Slåttum.

In one of the meetings the night before, guerilla leader Wilma Tiamzon sat right across a retired general who arrested her 27 years ago.  There will also be having a good mood/atmosphere, according to Slåttum. The contending parties have now begun to talk together formally; but it has happened earlier that the delegates have sung karaoke together at night, before the opening of the negotiation the next day.

  • We are now willing to risk finding the will to have at last a negotiation. It is worth to take the chance however small, says Slåttum.

I will have peace while I am still alive. Jesus Dureza, The president’s special adviser for peace.