PHILIPPINES PEACE NOT AT HAND YET

"This year the guns will be silent at Christmas," shouted the headlines in Manila a month ago when envoys of the New People's Army first offered a cease- fire in the 17 year-old communist insurgency.

This emotionally appealing prospect inspired government and National Democratic Front negotiators to push through a temporary 60-day cease-fire agreement last week. In forcing an agreement, President Corazon C. Aquino won a much needed political victory but is now faced with the far more daunting task of making the peace stick.Although lives will be saved when the cease-fire comes into effect Dec. 10, all the substantive issues that will lead to a lasting peace are missing

from this preliminary agreement. As one diplomat said referring to recent events in the Philippines, There is less here than meets the eye.

The list of unresolved issues remains as long today as it was when talks began Aug. 5. The NDF, representing the New People's Army, is calling for removal of the U.S. bases at Clark and Subic Bay and participation in a coalition government. Mrs. Aquino wants to keep her options open on the future of the bases after 1991 when the current agreement expires and has ruled out any power sharing with the communists in the cabinet.

The cease-fire also skates over whether the NPA should be allowed to continue exacting so-called revolutionary taxes in the rural areas and whether they can continue illegally seizing arms. To the military, such actions are anathema, while to the NDF, revolutionary taxation is the backbone of the revolutionary movement, without which it would shrivel and die.

Mrs. Aquino has also pushed the agreement at considerable political risk to herself. By dealing with the communists on equal terms, Mrs. Aquino has raised the NPA dangerously close to the status of belligerent, when in fact they are an indigenous insurgency.

Topping all this remains the question whether the government and the rebel negotiators in Manila can make a cease-fire stick in the field when armed patrols by both sides are allowed to continue.

As in any cease-fire, both sides have to contend with a legacy of hatred after so much fighting. In some areas few families have escaped without the loss of at least one member from NPA or military bullets.

So why did each side sign such an agreement? Mrs. Aquino's hand is behind it and has forced the NDF to go along with it. Her Christian instinct told her that a peaceful solution would be preferable long before she fired Juan Ponce Enrile, her tempestuous defense minister, Nov. 23.

Since firing Mr. Enrile, her already confused and morally battered armed forces is in even more need time to get back to basics.

Mr. Enrile had grown unacceptbly critical of Mrs. Aquino's policies and was linked with various military plots to destabilize her government if not actually overthrow it.

But Mr. Enrile retains his popularity among a large cross section of the armed forces who share his hard-line military approach to dealing with the insurgency, even if they did not back his political ambitions.

General Fidel Ramos and General Rafael Ileto, the new defense minister, both agree with Mr. Enrile's military approach. They recognize the need to heal the wounds left by the removal of Mr. Enrile and the recent politicization of the armed forces.

For its part, the NDF has been forced to the negotiating table by the changing political environment and by splits inside its ranks over how to deal with Mrs. Aquino.

NDF sources admit they can not reject Mrs. Aquino's genuine overtures of peace for fear of losing their moderate wing. And they are afraid of repeating February's mistake when their boycott of the presidential elections left them, in Mrs. Aquino's eyes, with little or no claim to the political spoils of victory when it unexpectedly came.

The NDF negotiators stressed at the cease-fire signing ceremony Nov. 27 that they are not looking for peace at any cost but one that addresses their real social grievances. Mrs. Aquino now has time to push forward with necessary social and economic reforms, especially in the countryside.

One reason the NPA now has between 16,000 and 22,000 armed members operating in 60 of the country's 72 provinces is the hopeless economic prospects of many in the countryside.

Meaningful land reform is the first demand of peasants, workers and NPA rebels in the countryside when asked what changes they are fighting for. Removal of the U.S. bases and U.S. imperialist multinational companies is lower down the list and is less emotionally appealing.

Land reform reached about 20 percent of the country's rice and corn lands under deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, but there are no plans to extend this to the important coconut and sugar lands for another five years.

Many observers believe Mrs. Aquino is missing an opportunity to woo moderate rebels down from the hills by accelerating the land reform program, starting with part of her own sugar estate, Hacienda Luicita.

There is no doubt that it would give her a tremendous boost (against the insurgents) if she was prepared to dismantle Hacienda Luicita and effect land reform there, said Antonio V. Cuenco, minister for Political Affairs.

With the cease-fire in place and Mr. Enrile temporarily silenced, Mrs. Aquino has time to push ahead with the business of government. As one observer said after expressing hope that she will be able to carry through reforms, Communist insurgencies have prospered in few liberal democratic countries - all that is needed is some changes.

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