SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Governing by impulse

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/01 August) — President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, during his State of the Nation Address last week revealed the flawed side of his character as a leader. It was as impulsive as his decision to lift the same declaration after the National Democratic Front failed to reciprocate the gesture within the deadline he had imposed.

Offhand, the declaration was a welcome move. But to expect the NDF to respond according to his timeframe and without laying out proposed mechanics and protocols is, well, expecting too much. Or perhaps, Duterte knew it would take time for the revolutionary group to issue an official stand on a ceasefire, and so exploited the death of a militiaman in an ambush to push it to a corner.

The president highlighted his pronouncement with a dare that if the NDF could not reciprocate, “babalik na lang tayo sa away” (let’s go back to war). Did he expect the NDF to cower in fear at such bravado and make them bow to government’s terms when peace talks formally resume this month as scheduled? It seems he only wanted to salve his bruised ego as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

What Duterte did not admit and won’t admit is that, technically, the NPA did not violate anything as it was just a unilateral declaration. Unlike in 1986, during the Cory Aquino administration, when the government and NDF signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement, both parties now are yet to agree on a cessation of hostilities and the terms of its implementation. Government negotiators like Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, a martial law era activist, knows only too well that the NDF would not enter into something where the terms are not defined.

If the NPA is to be faulted, it is for the indiscretion of the ground commander responsible for the ambush; apparently, he did not realize that tactical matters should have given way to bigger political considerations. The CPP, too, should have directed its forces to stand down pending its response to the unilateral ceasefire declaration.

Still, Duterte’s spur-of-the-moment decision showed that he is whimsical to say the least, prone to knee-jerk responses, an attribute that could prove fatal if and when he is drawn to a situation of brinkmanship. He should realize this early that the presidency is the mayorship multiplied many times over in terms of geographical scope, powers, and implications of policies. The stakes are greater, the protagonists more shrewd and creative in their designs and motives. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])