Something Alex Padilla told me years ago makes it clear that he has the toughest job in government – but also the clearest sense of why that job is important.
“Two related truths I believe in on this matter are these,” he told me in a January 2011 email after he was named head of the government peace panel and as peace negotiations with the underground left were set to begin.
“First, government cannot defeat this insurgency through military action alone. And second, the CPP/NPA/NDF could never achieve victory through armed struggle.”
“I don’t expect both extremes to agree, of course,” he continued, “but we have taken the
stance that we are not only negotiating with the left but actually negotiating with the entire
Filipino people as our main audience and these ‘truths’ are widely agreed with.”
Two years later, the negotiations have come crashing down.
The good news is that, while the peace talks have failed, the government, as Padilla himself said in a report, will try to take “a new approach to pursue peace.”
Not exactly sure what that means. How you can pursue peace without negotiating a peace agreement? (Unless this new approach actually involves waging war.)
The other good news is that Alex Padilla has a bit more time to do the job, at least based on
a deadline he imposed on himself.
“I have also been candid enough to say that I do not intend to talk for the entire six year term of the administration,” he told me. “We gave ourselves a maximum of three to forge an agreement and to implement the peace during this administration and not leave it to the next.”
That was two years ago. So there’s another year left for him to get the job done.
It won’t be easy.
“Scumbag,” he was called on Facebook post by a fan of the underground left.
Of course, he’s probably used to the name-calling. In fact, he’s probably been called worse – by the extreme right.
That’s because Alex, who comes from a prominent political family was also from and of the left.
He’s a former activist who once led rallies, with the likes of Lean Alejandro, at the height of the mass protests against the Marcos dictatorship. Every January, he hosts a reunion of former and current activists, called “Ganito Tayo Noon,” at his family’s home in Antipolo.
“My background as an activist, to my mind, has been both an asset and a liability,” he said. “Asset because the left welcomed my appointment and became a positive element in restarting the talks.”
But his past, he readily admits, was also a liability. “Because I have to constantly prove myself not only to the military but to the government itself that my intent and purpose are nothing less than the interest of the entire country.
“In doing this, I have personally adopted an open, transparent manner not only of conducting the negotiations, but also on how I respond to questions or publicly conduct myself.”
It appears that may not be enough when it comes to resolving a decades-old conflict between two forces with calcified beliefs.
Not in a world where, in the eyes of the armed underground left, the only activists worthy of respect are those who subscribe to the Communist Party which also sees itself as the only true champions of the people.
Not in a world where in the eyes of extremist factions of the military, any activist is, by definition, a communist, and therefore an enemy who does not enjoy any human or civil rights.
A battle with extremes involving forces and individuals who have simply gotten so addicted to war that they’ve grown allergic to peace.
In one corner, are elements of the military and the security forces that wouldn’t think twice about causing an activist like Jonas Burgos to disappear and then arrogantly dismissing his mother’s pleas for them to explain what happened to him.
In the other, are cadres who would consider a 78-year-old woman a legitimate political target. When it comes to the ambush of Ruth Guingona, at least, the UG left has apologized.
But it hasn’t shown the same kind of remorse and decency for mass purges that led to the deaths of its own activists, or for the killings of civilians who dared go against the movement.
In many cases, the UG left didn’t even have the decency to tell the slain cadres’ families where their bodies were dumped.
The challenge faced by Alex Padilla has always been to find people on both sides who have enough guts to see things differently, who are humble enough, strong enough, courageous enough to say that the war must end. That the war has turned into a pointless, vicious cycle of vindictive violence.
That won’t be easy. That’s why it’s not surprising that even Alex Padilla’s family and friends were not totally convinced he should take the job two years ago.
“I accepted this assignment without any misconception,” he told me. “My family was
against it because of concerns for my personal safety and most of the friends I asked were also against it saying that it was next to impossible for both sides to agree. Most were cynical and doubtful as was I in the beginning.”
Still, he didn’t think it was entirely hopeless. After all, he said, there have been “peaceful resolutions of age old conflicts” in such countries as Ireland, Nepal and in countries in Latin America.
Why not in the Philippines?
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