Shattered Peace Talks and Grinding Conflict: How U.S. Support Bolsters the Philippines' War on Dissidents
President Barack Obama with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Oval Office on July 30, 2009.
Photo Credit: Pete Souza/White House
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“Another one was killed. Another one had disappeared.” Human rights violations…keep on happening without let up. In the nine (9) years of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign, more than a thousand are victims of extrajudicial killing and 206 forcibly disappeared. 1,099 tortured, 2,059 were illegally arrested. On the other hand, in a span of two (2) years of President Noynoy Aquino’s presidency, Karapatan  documented 137 victims of extrajudicial killing, 14 of enforced disappearance, 72 of torture, 269 of illegal arrest. [Statement of the End of Impunity Alliance, April 25, 2013, delivered by Father REX RB. Reyes, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines]
At the end of April 2013, barely covered in the US media, the government of the Philippines unilaterally ended peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the coalition led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has led an insurgency for over forty years. In violation of the protocols established for these talks, and after repeated harassment of the NDFP—including the imprisonment of several NDFP negotiators—the government of the Philippines apparently felt comfortable that it could act with impunity.
The on-going conflict in the Philippines rarely garners much interest and attention in the USA except and insofar as the issue of “terrorism” is raised. The manner in which alleged terrorism is used to describe the conflicts in the Philippines tells one a great deal about the motives of the Philippine government and their US government supporters.
The insurgency led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, its military wing (the New People’s Army) and the NDFP can be understood as the continuation of an on-going conflict that commenced when the US illegally annexed the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War (1898). An indigenous Philippines revolutionary movement, on the verge of defeating the Spanish, was smashed by US invaders who initially presented themselves as friends of the Filipino people. In a war that cost at least 1.5 million Filipino lives, the US subjugated the population and controlled it outright until 1946, at which point the country received nominal independence. This was followed by another guerrilla insurgency against the neo-colonial regime in Manila, initiated by the Communist-led Hukbalahap movement .With the active involvement of the USA, the Huks—as they were referenced—were crushed. Corrupt regimes, very compliant with interests of the USA, followed ultimately resulting in renewed guerrilla war led by a refounded Communist Party of the Philippines. This was joined by a very separate insurgency in the southern island of Mindanao, where the largely Muslim Moro population fought for self-determination. Two main formations emerged in Mindanao, first the Moro National Liberation Front and later the split-off, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Ultimately a very strange outfit appeared that received a considerable amount of US media attention: Abu Sayyaf.
Although there was hope for peace when Corazon Aquino replaced the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, war continued, largely at the instigation of elements of the Philippine military who were not interested in peace with either the NDFP or the Moro insurgents in Mindanao. Peace talks have been going on between the government of the Philippines and the NDFP since the mid-1990s, but with little progress having been made. The objective of the government has been to, in essence, force the NDFP to capitulate rather than address any of the issues raised by the NDFP. Separate discussions have taken place in Mindanao, leading recently to a framework for an agreement with the MILF. During the NDFP-CPP-NPA insurgency the USA has done nothing to encourage a negotiated settlement, rather remaining a staunch supporter of succeeding Filipino governments, beginning with that of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.