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NZ's Terror Listings: Impediment to Peace in the Philippines

New Zealand’s Terror Listings: An Impediment to Peace in the Philippines

Article - By Cameron Walker

Under Helen Clark’s Labour Government, only groups and individuals on the United Nations’ list of Al-Qaeda and Taliban entities were designated as terrorist organisations in New Zealand under the Terrorism Suppression Act. In contrast, over the past year John Key’s National Government has designated a large number of groups not on the UN list – many of which have never threatened New Zealanders and are not involved in terrorism but rather legitimate armed struggles against repressive governments.

One of these groups is the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New Peoples Army (NPA). The CPP and NPA began their armed struggle against the Philippines government in the late 1960s, during the reign of the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The Party aimed to alleviate the suffering of the vast majority of Filipinos who lived in abject poverty, overthrow Marcos and end the domination over the country’s political and economic life by a small number of wealthy families.

In theory democracy was restored to the Philippines following the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. However, to this day the Armed Forces of the Philippines and paramilitary groups continue to commit widespread repression against members of left wing political parties, trade unions and peasant organisations. According the Filipino human rights group Karapatan there have been 1251 murders of left wing political activists since 2001. Many others have been kidnapped, tortured and ‘disappeared’. Considering this, it is not hard to see why some on the Filipino left see the need to maintain an armed component to their struggle. As John F. Kennedy once observed, those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.

The NPA claims to operate 121 guerrilla fronts covering more than 800 municipalities around the country. In areas where it is strong the movement operates as a defacto government, running social services such as health and education for poor communities, building a strong popular base.

Unlike some armed groups around the world, the NPA has never pursued policies like bombing public transport or kidnapping foreign tourists for ransom. Earlier this year the Philippines government began peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), a coalition of underground left groups that include the CPP/NPA. The Philippines government has recognised the movement as an opponent worthy of engaging in peace talks with, rather than simply a group of bandits or terrorists that deserved to be wiped out by armed force.

At the start peace talks earlier this year, the head of the Philippine Government Peace Panel, Alex Padilla even publicly stated "We look at our brothers and sisters in the NDF as not being enemies nor terrorists but rather as partners in trying to build this nation again…knowing their history of struggle...". (Quoted in Business World , 21-22 January 2011)

Ever since the US and European Union designated the CPP and NPA as terrorists in 2002, these governments have not provided any support for peace talks to end the conflict in the Philippines. This has emboldened elements within the Armed Forces of the Philippines who refuse to entertain the thought of any non-military resolution to the conflict, preferring to conduct a campaign of violence against civilians. It is sad to see New Zealand has followed the policy of the US rather than supporting a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict in the Philippines. We would be much better to follow Norway, which has not designated the CPP as terrorists and is currently facilitating the peace negotiations between the movement and the Filipino Government.

Cameron Walker is a law student at the University of Auckland and a member of Auckland Philippines Solidarity.

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