Philippine government, communist rebels to revive peace talks

If negotiations succeed, the rebels will end their 50-year armed struggle and transform into a political movement.

This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows Philippine communist leader Jaime Padilla (C) before a press conference of the New People's Army (NPA) in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. Fuelled by one of the world's starkest rich-poor divides, a Maoist rebellion that began months before the first human landed on the moon plods on even though the country now boasts one of the world's fastest-growing economies. (Photo by Noel CELIS / AFP) / TO GO WITH PHILIPPINES-UNREST-COMMUNIST-PEACE,FOCUS BY CECIL MORELLA - TO GO WITH Philippines-unrest-communist-peace,FOCUS by Cecil MORELLA
Philippine communist leader, Jaime Padilla, centre, marches in the Sierra Madre mountain range, east of Manila, Philippines [File: Noel Celis/AFP]

The Philippine government will resume peace talks with the country’s communist rebels, in a bid to end decades of civil strife.

Authorities will re-engage with the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), for the first time in six years, both parties and facilitator Norway announced on Tuesday.

“The parties agree to a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict,” the two sides said in a joint statement, adding that the peace talks will address “deep-rooted socioeconomic and political grievances”.

If negotiations succeed, the rebels will end their armed struggle and transform into a political movement, according to Norway, which has mediated the island nation’s peace process for around 20 years.

Despite the progress, the government announced no immediate ceasefire and said operations against the armed group would continue.

However, military chief Romeo Brawner was hopeful an eventual peace deal would enable the armed forces to fully focus on “external or territorial defence”, rather than domestic conflict.

Fifty years of conflict

The Philippine government’s conflict with the NPA has raged for over 50 years, peaking in the 1980s, and killed more than 40,000 people.

Today, the NPA has only a few thousand fighters, compared to some 26,000 at its height, with many rebels surrendering in exchange for financial assistance and livelihood opportunities, according to the government.

However, NPA rebels continue to engage in deadly clashes in some parts of the Philippines, staging ambushes against those perceived as state collaborators.

Members of the New Peoples Army (NPA), armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines, sing "Internationale" during graduation after their military training in their jungle hideout in Lianga on southern Mindanao island March 13, 2004. Members of the world's oldest communist insurgency see little hope of peaceful change in the Philippines and have vowed to step up their rebellion with the help of weapons obtained from the military. Photo taken March 13.
Members of the New People’s Army in their jungle hideout in Lianga, southern Mindanao island, Philippines, on March 13, 2023 [Reuters]

Successive Philippine administrations have held talks with the communists aimed at ending the violence since 1986, negotiating with their Netherlands-based political arm, the NDF.

Formal talks were last held in 2017 when they were acrimoniously terminated by then-President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte left office in mid-2022 and was replaced by Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The announcement of renewed peace talks comes less than a week after Marcos Jr issued an order granting amnesty to several rebel groups, including former members of the communist movement.

Under the amnesty order, former CPP, NPA and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) members would be absolved of crimes they committed “in pursuit of political beliefs”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies