All downhill from there

Once you start a boulder rolling downhill, there is no hope of stopping it.  It is equally hopeless to push it back uphill as some Greek guy tried to a millennia ago but there was just no way.  When Rodrigo Duterte formally terminated negotiations with the Left, the boulder was teetering on the edge; it was precariously perched, yes, but a wedge held it fast, until he decided to issue a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorists.  Bye-bye wedge.

We can debate all day whether the CPP and the NPA are terrorist organizations and its members as terrorists but in the end, it will not matter.  President Duterte invoked the provisions of Republic Act No. 9372, the Human Security Act of 2007.  According to this law, a terrorist is anyone who commits piracy; rebellion or insurrection; coup d’etat; murder; kidnapping; crimes involving destruction and six other offenses punishable under special laws, which sow and create a condition or widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.  The punishment is 40 years of imprisonment without parole.

If President Duterte were to be believed, the CPP and the NPA are demanding the formation of a coalition government.  Between the two of us, I find that hard to believe.  Look, under the law, the government—not even the President—can unilaterally declare an organization as terrorist in nature.  Section 17 of R.A. 9372 lays down a judicial procedure whereby the Department of Justice must first file an application before the competent regional trial court which will then determine, after notice and hearing, if the organization and people in question are indeed terrorists.  It will not be like applying for a driver’s license, I can tell you, given how slowly the judicial system operates in this country which, now that I think about it, is good in this case.  The elements have to be proven, but with the important proviso that the application under section 17 is not—repeat, not—a criminal prosecution, which will require proof beyond reasonable doubt for conviction.  What the section contemplates is a situation wherein a court proscribes an organization as terrorist.

The proscription, in turn, will trigger the operation of Republic Act No. 10168, the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.  In a nutshell, this law recognizes that in order to achieve its objectives, a terrorist organization needs money to subsidize its activities such that when you cut off the flow of money, you effectively cripple the organization.  R.A. 10168 punishes directly or indirectly, wilfully and without lawful excuse, possessing, providing, collecting, using or making available, property, funds or financial services to terrorists or terrorist organizations.  Apart from imposing a lengthy prison sentence and a hefty fine, the law authorizes the freezing and forfeiture of assets used to finance terrorism.  Anyone whose assets have been frozen will tell you that these are not inconsequential matters—when a bank account, for example, has been frozen, the account holder will not be allowed to withdraw money, which can be hell if one is actually innocent of any wrongdoing yet was wrongfully accused.  That is how serious the law is.

Going back to the President’s claim that the Left is demanding a coalition government, this, of course, has to be proven.  How? is the question-of-the-day.  Just because a President says something does not mean it is automatically true, especially in the case of President Duterte who says the most outrageous things.  Then there are his actions. Presenting himself as a left-leaning President, he appointed leftists to key Cabinet positions yet failed to support them when they were run through the wringer by the Commission on Appointments. Unsurprisingly, none of his nominees made the cut.  And then he made no further appointments of left-leaning candidates.  Thus, he first makes it appear that he is open to giving the Left a voice in his administration, then he rescinds it.  You cannot really take him at his word.

So where do President Duterte’s actions lead the peace process?  For lack of a better word, in limbo, but not in the Roman Catholic sense, not after the Church declared a few years back that there is no such place where unbaptized infants who died at birth are cooed over and cosseted before ascending to Heaven.  Peace negotiations cannot proceed if one party holds a sword over the other party’s heads, which is exactly what President Duterte has done.  He did say that it was up to the CPP and the NPA to resuscitate the talks but in all fairness, it was the government who stabbed the victim, so shouldn’t it be the one to administer CPR?

As the party who formally terminated the peace talks and thereafter persecutes the counter-party, the burden falls squarely on the government. G



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