Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 25 May 2016


The offer given by incoming president Rodrigo Duterte to the Communist Party for peace and participation in his government needs careful study.

The offer of peace and participation. Duterte indicated he is prepared to release political prisoners, give the rebels amnesty and invite their participation in four important departments of the government (Labor (DOLE), Land Reform (DAR), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)).

This is obviously a bold opening gambit by the new national leader who wants to end the communist rebellion. During the presidential campaign, candidate Duterte said he is a socialist and he is on the side of the poor.

Mayor Duterte even indicated he is prepared to meet Jose Ma. Sison face to face in the Netherlands. There is much goodwill between them that could be harnessed for the common national good.

The offers of peace and government are substantial, delicate and generates concern among those who are skeptical. Some government officials (for instance, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Rep. Rodolfo Biazon), have given their warnings in the form of advice.

The risky gambit, however, could put an end to a festering social issue that has plagued the nation for decades. High risks could lead to big rewards. I suppose incoming president Duterte assesses there are good prospects for success since he holds the cards.

There is much to be gained if the opposing sides worked together for the common good rather than neutralize each other in the field of combat. There is room for cooperative action. Of course, all these aspects of working relations have to be negotiated.

The communist movement in the country needs to recognize the changing realities on the ground. There is much to be done in terms of economic and social reform by the government. Cooperative effort, if achieved, could help speed up such reforms to improve the working man’s lot while enhancing businesses to thrive.

From the viewpoint of the government, it is better to appropriate money for peace than for bullets. Much can be gained by the permanent cessation of hostilities and by finding common cause for national progress.

The status of the civil-armed conflict. In the course of the last three decades, the NPA rebellion has been steadily losing ground. There are cases of encounters with NPA rebels, but these have been relatively small, skirmish types of operations.

The armed struggle in the field has been decimated, much reduced for several reasons: (1) Improved economic progress within the nation, despite inequities and poverty that continue (2) The participation of party-list groups in government (3) Co-optation of those who used to be part of the movement for work within the body politic and in business activity.

When I went on a road tour of Mindanao in the second half of 2015 and looked into the NPA story in the region, one common thread of the peace and order issue in the rural areas often involved NPA activities.

There was much evidence, based on intensive interviews with many local officials and business people, that the NPA movement was on the decline for the reasons that I have already mentioned. Some of the activities the local NPA groups tried to undertake had been dismissed as pure and simple banditry.

The imposition of “revolutionary taxes” had become a way of life for some groups which had simply found an easy and sustained way to make money. In short, some of it had become protection money that had been imposed on locals, no different from the mafia groups.

In my interviews, the main message I got from mayors and other officials was that there was more banditry than revolutionary zeal involved. Incidentally, the only mayor who had a different view of the matter then was Rodrigo Duterte, whom I asked the same question. He seemed to believe at the time (this was mid-2015) that the NPA continued to represent a problem that needed solution by government.

The 1987 Constitution introduced into the legislature the recognition of single party representation of causes. This has led to the growth of single party political cause groupings that are recognized as part of the political system.

This development has weakened the armed struggle since these party groups have attracted former rebels. Cause oriented groups tend to be more vocal about their specific interests partly due to the peace process that has been undertaken with them. That process has been stalled due to the failure of both parties – the government and the NPA movement – in concluding a total peace agreement.

To be on board a fast train to progress. Recent encouraging statements by incoming president Duterte seem to indicate his actions will sustain an already good rate of economic progress.

Rather than hinder further progress, the Communist Party will find it difficult to stop a fast moving train. It is, therefore, better to be on board it and help it move even better toward many social goals.

Although he did not have much of an economic platform during the presidential campaign, Duterte’s embrace of a number of important economic reforms very quickly should further sustain the already high rate of economic growth the country has been experiencing.

In the last decade – to add the six years of the current Aquino administration – the rate of economic growth has been above six percent per year. This growth has been sustained by improved macro fundamentals, strong balance of payments due to high receipts of remittances and earnings from exports and BPO operations.

On top of this existing framework, Duterte’s economic program puts the amendment to the economic restrictions on foreign capital among his top priorities. This will be a strong signal for higher inflows of more foreign direct investments in the future. His robust support for the implementation of the reproductive health program reverses the timid approval of this recent milestone reform.

Within such an environment, the economy, therefore, is set to move on a stronger pace of growth. This will make it possible to reduce the incidence of poverty and improve living standards in the country.