President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has offered four cabinet posts to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They are that of : DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform), DSWD (Department of Social Work and Development) and DENR (Department of the Environment and Natural Resources). During the election campaign Duterte had promised to make peace with the CPP and bring them into government.
Duterte chose four departments which the CPP could offer to the CPP. While these departments are important, they are not essential politicial, economic or security tasks of the government.
DAR. This department fits best with both the interests and the skill set of the CPP. The Philippines has already had two DAR secretaries from the Left: Ernesto Garilao (1992 – 1996) and Horacio Morales (1998 – 2001). There are already several lower-level DAR officials who used to be leftist activists.
DOLE. The KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, May First Movement) and the rest of the progressive labor movement.may probably be able to provide suitable candidates for labor Secretary. The most left-leaning labor secretary so far was Augusto Sanchex, who was a prominent human rights lawyer before serving as Labor Secretary in 1986 -1987.
DENR. The CPP has a mixed record when it comes to environmental issues. While it sometimes condemns mining companies and loggers for their various violations of environmental laws; the CPP often allows them to operate in their areas as long as they pay ‘revolutionary taxes’. At the same time, the government has a terrible record in appointing Environment Secretaries. Having a CPP nominee in the position may be a welcome change.
DSWD. Corazon Soliman, who served as Welfare Secretary from 2001 to 2005 and again from 2010 to 2016, was a moderate-left activist before becoming Secretary. She has been credited with the successful implementation of the landmark Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program – which gives a modest subsidy to poor families on the condition that their children attend school and avail of medical services. About 4.4 million people benefit from the CCT Program.
CPP leader Jose Maria Sison has declared that they would accept the offer, and will come up with names of ‘left’ personalities as nominees for the Secretary positions.
The process of actually coming up with nominees could prove difficult, though. In the past years, the CPP had been busy ejecting people from the party who could qualify for such positions; condemning them for being ‘reformist’ or something similar. Now, the CPP would have to pick candidates from the few cadres it has left who would qualify for these positions.
If the CPP cannot source nominees from among its ranks, they may be forced to nominate people from outside its immediate circles – maybe even people whom it had previously condemned as reformist.
An even bigger hurdle to the CPP coming up with nominees the matter of fitting the appointing of four cabinet secretaries into its overall strategy. It may be too easy to say that this is a matter of temporary tactics. However, it would mean a major adjustment in how the CPP does things. Specifically, it has to do with the role of the armed struggle to achieve its goals. While Duterte has not spelled it out explicitly, he expects a quid pro quo for the cabinet positions – that of having a ceasefire and peace talks. A six-year ceasefire would wreck havoc within the New Peoples Army; if it does not have anything to do, its ranks will fade away.
Then there is the matter of the CPP strategy for finally achieving power. Will the CPP accept a negotiated route to achieving its goals? or would it be just a temporary detour from the armed struggle? And what is the use of armed struggle if they could gain a governmental role simply by a political route? Their rationale for engaging in armed struggle is that the ruling classes would violently oppose efforts to change the political and economic system. Questions of strategy are a point of tension within the CPP. The balance between ‘legal’ struggle and armed struggle, and their relationship, has been a topic of internal debate and even splits for decades. The question of the cabinet positions will surely increase these tensions within the party.
Duterte’s policies could also be a sticking point. Bayan (a CPP-influenced mass organization) has already denounced Duterte’s economic policies. A more problematic issue is Duterte’s plan to have the dictator Ferdinand Marcos buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Burial Place for Heroes). This would also mean some kind of rehabilitation for him. The CPP may not want to be part of a government that rehabilitates Marcos.
Then comes the problems with security. If the DSWD includes peasants from the CPP mass base in the CCT program, the government will know who they are. After the 6-year period, they may be attacked for being communist sympathizers. Also, having a DAR Secretary may mean that the government military entering CPP-controlled areas to implement DAR orders.And what about the security of the Secretaries themselves and their staffers? They may all need to go underground after Duterte’s term.
Choosing a Response
Sison may have declared acceptance of the four cabinet posts; but this does not necessarily mean that the CPP really accepts the offer. It is the actual leaders of the CPP in the country who really call the shots. Sison was only given authority to hold peace talks with the government; actual concessions would need to be made by the leaders in the Philippines.
The CPP’s Central Committee, or more specifically the Secretariat of its Executive Committee, would be the one to make the final decision. Before doing so, they would need to consult some of the lower party organs e.g. the United Front Commission, which will probably be tasked to produce the nominees, as well as the New People’s Army’s high command. I suspect the NPA will balk at the prospect of having a 6-year ceasefire.
After careful consideration the Secretariat will issue its decision on this matter.
The decision could be within the following range:
Full acceptance of Duterte’s offer. Four nominees will be chosen from among the ranks of its ‘influenced’ organizations. Peace talks with the government will be started. A ceasefire of limited duration will be declared, as a possible prelude to an extended ceasefire.
The CPP will decline the offer. Disagreement on ssues e.g the proposed burial of Marcos and/or other portions of Duterte’s policies will be deemed incompatible with participation in his government.
Something in between.
I suspect that the CPP leadership will neither fully accept nor fully reject Duterte’s offer. Perhaps it could nominate someone for DAR or DOLE from within its ranks, but nominate outside progressives for DENR and DSWD. It could agree on a partial ceasefire – i.e. that no large-scale military operations will be undertaken, but that ‘police actions’ by both sides would be allowed (this may be done to appease the NPA leadership). Also, the peace talks could be held both in the Philippines and with Sison’s team abroad.
The way the CPP handles this offer could determine its prospects of building peace with the govenment, including for the period after Duterte’s presidency.