At the 31st special session of the United Nations General Assembly in response to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic early this month, Rodrigo Duterte supported the secretary general’s global call for a halt to all fighting at the end of the year.

He noted the pandemic’s impact on peace and security as lawless elements have weaponized the crisis.

But his generals are opposing any unilateral declaration of truce with Maoist-led guerrillas during the country’s long Christmas and New Year’s day holidays, a tradition done for decades.

The defense and military establishments also rejected proposals for the government to resume peace negotiations with the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Duterte scrapped negotiations with the rebels in 2018, breaking his long friendship with leftist elements whom he had invited to his government at the start of his administration in 2016.

The government and the rebels have been on on-again, off-again peace negotiations since 1986 after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was toppled by a military backed-popular uprising.

The talks, brokered by Norway, aim to end more than five decades of conflict that has killed over 40,000 people and stunted development in the resource-rich but poor rural communities in the country.

The government has achieved more success in its efforts to end the other rebellion fueled by ancestral land and historical injustice against the minority Muslims in the south.

Fidel Ramos ended the rebellion of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996 and Benigno Simeon Aquino III signed a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2013.

Both rebel groups had wanted in the beginning of the rebellion to secede from the Republic and form an independent Muslim state during the period when countries around the world were rising against Western colonial rule and building independent states.

Muslim rebel leaders were more practical and pragmatic.

They knew the conflict could not be settled by the barrel of the gun as fighting dragged on for five decades, resulting in the deaths of more than 120,000 people.

It also displaced 2 million, many of them fleeing to nearby Sabah in the eastern state of Malaysia. The Muslim region in the south has remained as the poorest in the country.

Support from other Muslim states for the rebellion also waned, forcing rebel leaders to negotiate a ceasefire and accept self-rule.

Peace negotiations produced positive results, not only in Muslim Mindanao, but in other parts of the world where insurgencies and ethnic conflicts had existed.

But it’s almost impossible for the government and the Maoist-led rebels to find a common ground as long as the Communist Party of the Philippines would not abandon its political goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government in the Philippines.

The rebels have taken a two-pronged approach to achieve their goal—wage a protracted guerrilla warfare through their military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA) and gain political concessions through peace negotiations through its united front organization, National Democratic Front (NDF).

It has also joined the parliamentary struggle, taking part in national elections since 2000 through its various above-ground party-list groups, like Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kabataan and  Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

There was nothing wrong in these party-list groups as long as they played the game fairly. They have proven for many years that they could work well with the political system.

In fact, these party-list groups had pushed for and were able to legislate good laws that benefited public interest.

Duterte’s generals say the rebels have used peace talks to break the momentum of the government in defeating the insurgency. They said they had observed the rebels rebuilding their army, political cadres and mass base during the periods when talks were held.



Before Duterte scrapped the negotiations and ordered the military to go on an all-out offensive, the rebels were close to sealing a deal with the government in Norway and securing a something close to a power-sharing agreement.

With many left-leaning personalities embedded in the bureaucracy, the Communist Party of Philippines was close to achieving its goal with a leader who had proclaimed himself to be the Republic’s first socialist president.

But that was two years ago and Duterte was transformed overnight into a right-wing fascist leader, purging the government of his left-wing appointees and depending too much on the security forces to keep him in power.

It betrayed Duterte’s weakness behind the strongman image he wanted to project as he increasingly surrounded himself with retired army and police generals in his Cabinet and showered the uniformed services with lavish pay hikes, generous allowances and other non-cash benefits like housing, education and health care.

Duterte has become a puppet of his own generals as his policies were largely influenced by the military’s interests, especially on the peace talks, the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea and even on how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were times when Duterte made decisions that appeared detrimental to the military’s interests, like flirting with China and Russia, scrapping the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, and directing the defense department to source its equipment from countries other than the United States and other Western countries.

But, in the end, the military establishment won. It managed to suspend the termination of the VFA and continued to acquire equipment from the US and its allies. 

Recently, Duterte called on China to respect the country’s 2016 legal victory at The Hague, which drew comments from Beijing reminding him of his agreement with Xi Jinping to hold bilateral talks on the dispute.

It will be interesting to know if the president will listen to his generals who opposed the peace talks and truce with Communist rebels even after he expressed support to the UN secretary general’s global call for a ceasefire at the end of the year

Like all previous Philippine leaders, it looks like Duterte will give in to domestic pressures rather than honor his pledge to the international community.

Duterte would rather endure a global embarrassment rather face an unhappy and restive military two years before he steps down from office.