FASTLANES: At least they are now talking by BenCyrus G. Ellorin

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (December 29) — After her release from six years of captivity by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Green Party presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt reiterated her call for peace negotiations between the Bogota government and the rebels. She was abducted in February 2002 while campaigning for the presidency.

In an interview with BBC after her release in 2008, Betancourt said that it important to resolve conflict by talking. “Humans are gifted with the ability to communicate in complex symbols and we should use it to foster understanding and harmony,” she said.
After years of being stalled, the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front have agreed to formally resume the peace process in Oslo, Norway in the third week of February 2011.

The communist movement of the Philippines has one of the best propaganda machineries, propaganda being at the centerpiece of its work. The basic armed units of the New People’s Army are even called Samahang Yunit Propaganda (SYP), whose task is to educate the people about the injustices under a society they analyze as semi-feudal and semi-colonial. They are armed because they believe that the nature of social contradiction between the toiling masses of farmers and workers and the ruling feudal and comprador classes is violent, with the coercive powers of the state at their disposal.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is also trying to learn the ropes of propaganda war. Civil military units have been integrated in combat units to work for “peace and development” in the countryside.

Propaganda has always been an important arena in the warfare between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the communist revolutionaries.

I attended a human rights forum in Manila last May and I was amused by the articulateness of young officers from the AFP. They were captains and majors and many of them are lawyers. Even amusing was that in the heat of the debate on extrajudicial killings, the representative of the progressive human rights group Karapatan lost his cool and walked out.

After the Communist Party of the Philippines scored a major propaganda victory in their 42nd anniversary in San Agustin town in Surigao del Sur, military spokespersons fanned out to condemn the audacity of the underground movement in holding their anniversary which some observers claimed to be the “grandest” in the entire history of Asia’s longest running rebellion.

Army spokesperson Colonel Dan Lucero called the celebration a form of atrocity, saying the display of their arsenal is a way of coercing the people to kowtow to them.

4th Infantry Division commander Major General Victor A. Felix said that they are sincere in welcoming the rebels to the fold of the law, adding the deaths of NPA combatants saddened him.

In a press conference during the CPP anniversary last Dec. 26, NDF Mindanao spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos was not his usual fiery self. He refused to be baited into badmouthing the Aquino administration and the military which placed checkpoints along the route to the anniversary venue, according to a report from Bulatlat.com.

“It is bad form to do so when we are about to talk to this government across the negotiating table,” Ka Oris was quoted as having said.

Instead of lambasting the military for checkpoints meant to harass civilian and journalists covering the CPP anniversary, Ka Oris simply said that what the military did was “unfriendly.” There were also reports that two lechons (roasted pigs) were delivered to the military checkpoint some two kilometers from the anniversary site. It was however not clear if the soldiers feasted on it.

As the resumption of the peace process between the government and communists draws near, we expect more verbal tussle from both parties to the conflict. This should be viewed positively though, as it is better than exchanging gunfire.

The more discussion there is on the issues and concerns on the 42-year-old communist insurgency, the better it would be for the people as they will be in a position to understand the issues and form informed opinions on the matter.

I hope the security sector would provide enough elbow room for and higher tolerance toward the rebels and their civilian supporters to enable them to voice out their ideas on the issues behind the 42-year-old armed conflict.

As we commemorate the 114th death anniversary of our National Hero, the great propagandist Dr. Jose Rizal who died of firing squad, let it not happen again that people are killed simply because they express ideas which the powers that be might construe as threats to their rule.

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