The proof is in the protractor. When President Duterte describes himself as a “left-leaning” President, be advised not to take his words at face value; rather, they should be brought to the test. He should be made to stand 90° to the ground and then a measurement taken to determine how many degrees he deviates from the perpendicular in the direction to which he claims to incline. I bet his “leaning” will not exceed three degrees—five, tops—which, I submit, is not enough to qualify him as “left-leaning.” It’s a claim that is no more accurate than the inclination of the Tower of Pisa. Factually, it leans, yes, but not because it wants to. It tilts because of a flaw in its design: its architect did not site it properly, and so when the monument was built, the underlying soil began to shift and thus the famous tilt began. The President may say that he leans to the left—and he may even believe himself—but it’s not because his sympathies lay in that direction.
As far as I can tell, his “left-leaning” bona fides was limited to appointing prominent Leftists to his Cabinet, namely, Ka Paeng Mariano to Agrarian Reform and Judy Taguiwalo to Social Welfare, but that is as far as the “leaning” got. Appointing is one thing, but having your candidates’ back is another. A presidential appointment is meaningless until it has been approved by the Commission on Appointments, and when push came to shove, the President did not pushfor his nominees when their bids needed his shove the most. Rodrigo Duterte can rub his critics’ faces in the supermajority he enjoys in both houses of Congress, yet inexplicably, he did not exercise his influence to shepherd Mariano and Taguiwalo through the appointment process. Leftists everywhere were rightfully shocked.
And then he speaks about coming to terms with the Left to end almost half a century of conflict, the longest such armed struggle in Asia. At first, the omens were encouraging. Talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army began August last year, facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government. Both sides sent their emissaries to negotiate and the administration went to the extent of asking the Supreme Court to order the release on bail of 11 members of the CPP-NDF-NPA who had been detained for their allegedinvolvement in “Oplan Venereal Disease,” supposedly a mass purge conducted by the Left to cleanse its ranks of military informants, so that they can act as consultants. The administration even one-upped the Left by unilaterally declaring a ceasefire, to which the Left responded with its own (two unilateral ceasefires, however, do not a bilateral one make and such things do not really work out in the endanyway). But then, when President Duterte was not getting what he wanted—which is different from what the country or even the Left wanted—the talks were suspended, thrice, and last week, he issued Proclamation No. 360 formally terminating the peace talks.
This is the first such termination between the Government and the Left since 1999 when Joseph Estrada was President, so it is no small thing. While the rest of the country swoons over Rachel Peters, our bet to this year’s Miss Universe pageant, an event of greater import is being relegated to the sidelines. President Duterte threatens to declare the NPA as a terrorist organization; he threatens the NDF consultants whose release on bail he had intervened in to surrender under pain of arrest; he threatens to gun for people’s organizations who criticize his actions as sympathizers of the Left; he threatens to deny the return of a “dying” Jose Maria Sison (knock on wood) to his home country—that’s a lot of threats for a “left-leaning” President to make against the Left.
So where does that leave the peace process? Technically, the door remains a teensy bit ajar. We have the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees to thank for that: this document basically assures that the NDF consultants are free from surveillance, harassment, arrest, detention, prosecution or other punitive actions, and this guarantee is good even after the Agreement is terminated. Thus, a document hovers over the termination of the peace talks, but it must be said that it is good only if the parties thereto abide by it.
There’s this old chestnut of “fighting while talking,” an informal arrangement between the Government and the Left to maintain open linesof communication even as the two continue to shoot at each other. With the formal termination, even back-channel talks have stopped. With a President as fast and loose with expletives and human rights as the one we have now, it is safe to say that the left and the rightwill not be shaking hands anytime soon.