Pacquiao on peace talks with NDF: problems are not resolved if we don’t talk

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 February) –  If he had not become a boxer, Emmanuel Pacquiao  would probably have taken up arms and join the New People’s Army (NPA), the senator and world boxing icon told peace advocates during the “Peace and the Presidentiables” online forum on Tuesday. 

A career in boxing saved him from ending up in the mountains fighting government but Pacquiao, born in Kibawe, Bukidnon and whose family later moved to General Santos City and Sarangani, says he cannot blame those who take up arms, citing poverty, injustice, and systemic corruption. He vowed to push for a resumption of the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) if elected  as President. 

“Di po natin masisisi yung ibang mga tao na mamanundok at humawak ng armas dahil po sa kahirapan. Kapag nagugutom ka, wala ka nang ibang maisip eh” (We cannot blame those who go up the mountains and take up arms because of poverty. When you’re hungry, you cannot think of other things), he said, adding that if there is development and people are employed and are earning, “I don’t think hahawak pa sila ng armas at mamundok” (I don’t think they would still take up arms). 

Poverty was not just the issue Pacquiao had to deal with as a young boy. War, too, was real. “Masuerte na lang yang isang linggong walang putukan” (We were lucky if there was a week with no gunshots), he recalled. 

Pacquiao was the first  Presidential candidate to take up the challenge to discuss his peace agenda and respond to questions raised by members of the Citizens’ Alliance for Just Peace (CAJP) which organized the forum in partnership with the Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission of the De La Salle University system, Father Saturnino Urios University in Butuan City,  Silliman University Student Council in Dumaguete, St. Scholastica’s College Manila, and the University of the Philippines. 

Organizers want the series of online sessions with Presidential candidates to highlight peace as an electoral issue in the May 9, 2022 polls. 

Pacquiao said government should resume peace negotiations because “kailangan pakinggan sila ng ating gobyerno” (government should listen to them). 

He said development is needed but too often, projects are riddled with corruption. 

He said peace talks should be revived between government and the NDF because “lahat po may solusyon kung pag-usapan” (talking leads to solutions). The NDF represents the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army in the peace negotiations with government. 

Optimism about the peace process was high when President Rodrigo Duterte, the first Mindanawon to become President, began his term on June 30, 2016. Duterte is the first President to claim he has Moro roots, and  who vowed to correct historical injustices committed against the Moro. Duterte also referred to himself as a “socialist” and the “first leftist President” in the country. The NPA in Mindanao considered him an ally and released soldiers and policemen held by them to the long-time mayor of Davao City. As President, Duterte appointed leftists to key Cabinet posts. 

But Duterte’s peace-building efforts with the NDF in his 72-month term of office, were short-lived. 

On his 17th month in office, he terminated peace negotiations with the NDF through Proclamation 360 on November 23, 2017 just as the government peace panel was on its way to Utrecht supposedly for another round of talks.

On December 5, 2017, he signed Proclamation 374 designating the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.

On December 4, 2018, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 70 “institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict, and directing the adoption of a National Peace Framework.” The EO institutionalized Duterte’s preference for “localized peace talks.”

Pacquiao does not refer to the NPA as terrorists. “Sa akin, mga taong humawak ng armas dahil sa kahirapan, di natugunan ang mga kailangan” (for me, those who took up arms because of poverty, their needs were not met) and they were left with no option but to take up arms to achieve justice. 

Pacquiao said the NTF-ELCAC has good intentions in giving out funds to barangays but these funds should be used for development and “hindi gamitin para ipitin ang taong bayan” (and not used to harass the people). 

Asked for his reaction on Duterte’s comment that candidates who plan to resume talks with the NDF are naive, Pacquiao replied: “Bakit, ano bang gusto natin, patayan? Magpapatayan ba tayo?  Kapwa Pilipino sa kapwa Pilipino? Ganon ba gagawin natin? Hindi eh. Ang problema pag-usapan” (Why, what do we want, killings? Are we going to kill each other? Filipino against fellow Filipino? Is that what we want to do? No. Problems should be talked about). 

“Kailangan pag-usapan kasi di nare-resolve ang problema kung hindi pag-uusapan. Pag-usapan at gawin” (We should talk because problems are not resolved if we do not talk. We should talk and implement), Pacquiao said, adding that there have been several milestone agreements with the NDF since 1992 but have not been implemented by the government and development has not reached the sector that needs it most. 

If development had reached the marginalized, “I don’t think, 100 percent, na hahawak sila ng armas para mamundok” (that they would still take up arms), Pacquiao said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)