The country has had seven presidents since the Communist Party of the Philippines was formed in 1968 by Jose Maria Sison, a former student activist and an ex-member of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas.
Sison founded the CPP on December 26, 1968—Mao Zedong's 75th birthday—with the aim of reforming the Communist presence in the country and overthrowing the government. In March 1969, the New People's Army was formed as the CPP's armed wing, with Bernabe Buscayno (Kumander Dante) as its leader. In 1973, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF or NDFP) was formed to serve as the umbrella organization for the CPP-NPA and other communist organizations as well as to represent the groups in the political arena.
The CPP-NPA were opposed to the Marcos regime, conducting small-scale raids and ambushes nationwide. Over the years recruitment also spiked; by the CIA’s estimate, the insurgents’ ranks more than doubled in size to around 17,000 in the final years of the dictatorship.
Peace talks between the government and the Reds would not begin until Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986 and ordered the release of political prisoners including Sison and Buscayno. Even then, the government’s attempt to forge peace with one of Asia’s longest-running communist insurgencies was short-lived.
According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, over 40 rounds of peace talks have been conducted by the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF since 1986.
Below is a general timeline of the peace talks through the administrations of six presidents.
Peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF
PRESIDENT CORAZON AQUINO (1986 - 1992)
August to December 1986: Preliminary peace talks are conducted between the administration of Corazon Aquino and the CPP-NPA-NDF, but end in the wake of the Mendiola massacre on January 22, 1987, in which 13 farmers were killed and scores injured. Peace negotiations remain at a standstill throughout Aquino’s term.
PRESIDENT FIDEL RAMOS (1992 - 1998)
1992: Ramos declares a policy of amnesty and reconciliation; peace talks resume under his administration.
September 1, 1992: The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 is signed by the government and the NDF after two days of negotiations in The Netherlands. The declaration set forth, among other things, the holding of formal negotiations to attain “a just and lasting peace.”
June 14, 1994: The two parties sign the Breukelen Joint Statement, in which an agreement was made to create safety and immunity guarantees for individuals joining the peace talks as negotiators, consultants, and other personnel.
February 24, 1995: The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) for NDF negotiators and consultants during peace talks is signed by the government and the NDF.
June 1995 to June 1998: Formal peace negotiations are held between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF.
March 16, 1998: The Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) is signed by the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF peace panels. Among its objectives are for both parties to guarantee the protection of every Filipino's human rights and to "confront, remedy and prevent" serious human rights violations; for the government to review the cases of political prisoners; and for a Joint Monitoring Committee to be set up to ensure that the agreement is being implemented.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH ESTRADA (1998 - 2001)
August 1998: President Estrada formally approved the implementation of CARHRIHL by signing it as well. Under this agreement, both parties acknowledge that respect for human rights and adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law are necessary to achieve a just and lasting peace.
February 24, 1999: Estrada suspends peace talks and the JASIG days after four military officers—including Brigadier General Victor Obillo—are abducted by the NPA in three separate incidents in Mindanao and Bicol. The officers are released two months later.
May 29, 1999: Two days after the the Senate ratified the Visiting Forces Agreement negotiated by the Estrada administration and the US, which the NDF deemed a violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty and constitution, the NDF says it recognizes the government’s “de facto termination” of the peace talks.
May 31, 1999: The government formally ends the peace talks and terminates the JASIG. In an interview with the Philippine Star in January 2004, Sison said that while the NDF had “reason to terminate” talks due to the VFA, it did not do so. Peace talks would not resume for the rest of Estrada’s short-lived presidency.
PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO (2001 - 2010)
March 2001: The government and the CPP-NPA-NDF hold informal talks and agree to resume formal negotiations the next month. The JASIG is reinstated.
April 27 to 30, 2001: Peace talks are resumed in Oslo, Norway. Government panel head Silvestre Bello III and NDF chairperson Luis Jalandoni release the Oslo Joint Communique, in which they say they have agreed to work on several measures including the “accelerated release” of prisoners and detainees as listed by human rights organizations; the repeal of “repressive decrees”; and the return of internally displaced communities to their land.
June 10 to 14, 2001: The second round of peace talks is held in Oslo, but is suspended when Cagayan Representative Rodolfo Aguinaldo is assassinated by suspected NPA militants. Formal talks scheduled for later in the year are suspended, but back-channel talks are conducted between the two parties for the rest of the year and throughout 2002.
August 9, 2002: Talks stall when the US lists CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization. The NDF condemns the designation and it colors the negotiations between the two parties.
January 29, 2003: The government submits the draft of a final peace accord, which the NDF rejects. Informal talks in The Hague and Oslo continue throughout the year.
February 10 to 14, 2004: The first round of formal peace negotiations takes place in Oslo. The parties discuss the resolution of the listing of the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization, and the formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee.
March 28 to April 3, 2004: The second round of formal peace negotiations takes place. The terror designation is still discussed, as is the release of political prisoners.
April 2004: The Joint Monitoring Committee of the CARHRIHL is finally formed.
June 22 to 24, 2004: The third round of peace talks is held.
August 24, 2004: Peace talks break down again after the US retains the CPP-NPA on its terror list.
January 24, 2005: A government monitoring committee (GRP-MC) for the CARHRIHL is created to represent the government in the Joint Monitoring Committee.
February 2010: After years of sporadic informal talks, the NDFP ends possibility of talks with the "lame duck" Arroyo administration.
PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO III (2010 - 2016)
February 15-21, 2011: After a seven-year cessation, formal talks resume. At the end of the February talks, however, a “22-month impasse” begins that leads to the government’s ending formal talks in April 2013.
December 2012: The government and the CPP-NPA-NDF hold a "special track" meeting that leads to the declaration of a holiday ceasefire, from December 20, 2012 to January 15, 2013.
February 2013: The special track talks collapsed when the NDF submitted documents making demands the government would not comply with, including the return to barracks of military and police forces from Oplan Bayanihan and the termination of the government's conditional cash transfer program (4Ps). The government rejects the demands.
April 27, 2013: The government ends formal peace talks with the rebels, with then-government panel head Alexander Padilla citing “mounting violence” perpetrated by the NPA on civilians and the NDF’s insistence on preconditions.
2014: According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), informal talks were held by "private emissaries" under the OPAPP's guidance to revive the peace talks. These failed, however, due to the issue of prisoner release.
June 15 to 16, 2016: Preliminary discussions to resume the peace talks are held in Oslo, Norway. The government peace panel included peace negotiator Jesus Dureza, former congressman Hernani Braganza, and DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello. Heading the CPP-NPA-NDF side were Jose Maria Sison, Louie Jalandoni, Fidel Agcaoili, and 5 others. The first round of peace talks are scheduled for the third week of July. This is later moved to August for the release of NDF consultants.
PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE (2016 - present)
July 18, 2016: President Duterte approves a six-point peace and development agenda that includes an accelerated timeline on the peace talks.
July 25, 2016: Duterte declares a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF during his first State of the Nation Address.
July 30, 2016: Duterte lifts the ceasefire after the Reds fail to impose a reciprocal ceasefire and after government militiamen are ambushed in Davao del Norte.
August 13, 2016: The CPP says that it no longer supports Duterte’s war on drugs, calling it “anti-people and anti-democratic.” The peace panels on both sides, however, are optimistic that the upcoming peace talks will push through.
August 21, 2016: The government re-imposes an indefinite unilateral ceasefire after the CPP-NPA declares a seven-day unilateral ceasefire of its own. The government had also released 22 DNF consultants for the talks, including CCP chairman Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, who were arrested in 2014.
August 22 to 26, 2016: The Duterte administration conducts its first round of peace talks with the NDF in Oslo, ending almost five years of impasse. With the Royal Norwegian Government acting as a third-party facilitator, the round ended with both parties agreeing to declare unilateral ceasefires. Also agreed upon at the talks are the reaffirmation of the Hague Joint Declaration and the reconstitution of the JASIG list; the acceleration of peace talks; and the early release of prisoners and amnesty proclamation.
October 6-10, 2016: The second round of peace talks is conducted in Oslo. The government and the NDF agree on a framework for the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), with the objective of reducing poverty and inequality in the Philippines through sustainable development including in rural areas; upholding social and economic rights; affordable access to services and utilities; and a fiscal policy aimed towards development. With both sides tussling over the “outcomes” listed in CASER, more substantive negotiations are expected in the succeeding talks.
December 8, 2016: Duterte says he had given the NDF “too much, too soon,” and that he would not release 130 political prisoners until the NDF signs a bilateral ceasefire deal. He also notes that the NPA has been carrying out small-scale but deadly attacks on companies and facilities. The NDF later says it is willing to sign to a bilateral truce.
December 20, 2016: Sison says that he ad Duterte spoke over the phone, during which they agreed that both sides’ unilateral ceasefires will stand throughout the holidays. Sison also says that a bilateral ceasefire and the release of political prisoners may even be discussed before, during or after the third round of talks in January.
January 19 to 25, 2017: The third round of peace talks is conducted in Rome, Italy, and end with an agreement to continue unilateral ceasefires. Bello says the government might move to have Sison removed from the terrorist list ahead of his talks with Duterte.
February 1, 2017: The NPA ends its unilateral ceasefire beginning February 10, saying the government has failed to fulfill its promise to release all political prisoners. It said that it had extended its ceasefire on August 28, 2016 on the “mutual understanding” that the government would order the releases within 60 days.
February 3, 2017: The government ends its own unilateral ceasefire, citing the NPA’s recent clashes with the military that led to the loss of life on the government side even before it lifted its ceasefire.
February 4, 2017: Duterte terminates the peace talks, and says that he will not order the release of 400 political prisoners.
February 5, 2017: A lookout bulletin is issued for the Tiamzons and other NDF consultants after the talks are scuttled and Duterte ordered them arrested. He also says he is no longer interested in talking with Sison and that he considers the NPA a terrorist group. The NDF says the consultants are in the country and not in hiding.
February 7, 2017: The government cancels JASIG after Duterte orders the termination of peace talks and the arrest of NDF consultants who were part of the talks. He declares an “all-out war” against the NPA. In return, the NPA declares “heightened” armed resistance.
March 12, 2017: Following “successful” backchannel talks with the NDF, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza says that the peace talks will resume in April. He says that JASIG is restored and that both sides will declare unilateral ceasefires before the talks.
April 3 to 6, 2017: The fourth round of peace talks is conducted in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Negotiators forge an Interim Joint Ceasefire they call a milestone. The parties also agreed to conclude the unfinished distribution of land and do this for free for the landless and poor farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolk, with just compensation to owners. Resources for land acquisition and support services should may come in part from the recovery of the Marcos hidden wealth, the OPAPP said. The parties also agreed to form and convene bilateral teams to reconcile provisions of their CASER drafts.
May 27, 2017: The fifth round of peace talks is suspended following the CPP’s call for the NPA to intensify attacks on the heels of Duterte’s placing Mindanao under martial law due to the conflict in Marawi City. Duterte later says he is not inclined to resume talks if the rebels continue to collect “revolutionary tax” from contractors and barangay officials, which he calls extortion.
July 19, 2017: The government cancels backchannel talks with the NDF after a rebel attack on attack on a Presidential Security Group convoy in Arakan, Cotabato. The government called on communist rebels to return its “goodwill gesture” instead of opposing plans to extend martial law in Mindanao and launching fresh offensives.
July 21, 2017: After Sison says that there is no longer need for peace talks due to the Duterte administration’s “obsession with martial law and mass murder,” the President says the government is ready to engage in war versus the rebels for another 50 years, a reference to his listening to SIson talk about the need to wage war 50 years ago when he was the latter’s student. Duterte also tells the communist leaders out on bail to participate in the peace talks to surrender.
July 24, 2017: The war of words between Sison and Duterte continue. During his second State of the Nation Address, Duterte hurled invectives at Sison and the NDF. In response, Sison said that Duterte’s lack of interest led to the scuttling of the talks, and that he has a “sick mind.” He also called the President the country’s number one drug addict.
October 5, 2017: Duterte says that he may leave it to the next president to pursue peace talks with the communist rebels. He earlier said that the peace talks were a waste of money. Some days later, however, he indicates that peace negotiations might resume, saying that he has to talk to the NPA still.
November 22, 2017: The government cancels peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF, citing “recent tragic and violent incidents all over the country committed by the communist rebels.”
November 23, 2017: NDFP senior adviser Jalandoni calls Duterte a “crazed tyrant” who sabotaged the peace talks. Duterte signs Proclamation No. 360, cancelling the peace talks. The Palace cites the NPA’s continued acts of violence and hostilities even as the government tried to proceed with peace negotiations.
November 23, 2017: Duterte signs Proclamation No. 360 which declares the termination of peace talks with communist rebels.
December 5, 2017: Duterte signs a proclamation formally designating the CPP-NPA a terrorist group.
— RSJ, GMA News