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Interview with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines

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In mid-November, Vanguard was honoured to conduct an interview with Luis Jalandoni, Chairperson of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, and Coni Ledesma, Member of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, during their speaking tour of Australia. Extracts from key sections of the interview are published below.
Vanguard: What does the NDFP want to achieve for the people of the Philippines?
LJ/CL: After the first big strike against Marcos in October 1975, workers faced the certainty of military attack and had to decide what to do. There was silence – then a woman worker said, “We have to go on; otherwise our children will have no future.”
The NDFP wants to achieve land reform for the peasants, freedom from oppression and exploitation and democratic rights for the 90 million people, and national sovereignty as an anti-imperialist country free from the domination of US imperialism. A free, independent and prosperous Philippines would uphold the rights of women and the rights of indigenous people. It would provide free, quality healthcare and treat people with care and dignity.   
The peasants dream of reclaiming the land stolen by the big land-owners and multinationals, the workers want national industrialisation, the people want proper schools and healthcare, and an independent and peaceful foreign policy. 
Our 12 point program also covers the demands of women for equality, respect, and control of their own bodies, and the demands of the indigenous people for autonomy and return of their ancestral lands and the preservation of their culture and language. Other points deal with the demands of the youth, especially around education and employment, protection of the environment, and demands to restore the proud history and culture of the Filipino people. Trade and foreign investment should be based on fairness and mutual benefit.
The NDFP wants to establish a free and independent democracy, with the perspective of building socialism into the future.      
Vanguard: What are the main classes, sectors, and groups that support the NDFP within and beyond the Philippines?
LJ/CL: The NDFP is a united front; a broad alliance composed of 17 organisations and various forms of struggle.
Armed struggle is carried out by the New People’s Army which has fought to protect and defend the people since 1969 and is active in 70 provinces. It expects to move from ‘strategic defence’ to ‘strategic stalemate’ within five years. 
Other forms of struggle are the mass movement for human and political rights, and for socio-economic reforms, and the legal and parliamentary struggles, as well as the struggle for progress in peace negotiations.
The most resolute classes are the workers and peasants who represent 15% and 75% of the population respectively. The worker-peasant alliance is the basis for the united front, which operates under strong working class leadership. 
Classes which are also represented in the NDFP and make important contributions are the low and middle petty-bourgeoisie, the patriotic national bourgeoisie and progressive intellectuals and professionals. Even some sections of the ruling class can be part of informal, tactical alliances on issues. 
Key sectors where the NDFP attracts support are among women, youth, indigenous people, and among the 9 million Filipino workers forced to emigrate to find work. One day, after victory, we hope they can return and use their skills for our country.
We value the warm support and solidarity of international contacts and anti-imperialist organisations. 
Vanguard: What are the prospects for the resumption of peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Aquino government?
LJ/CL: Peace talks conducted with Norway as a facilitator have been stalled since 2005 due to the Philippines government following the US line of ‘terror-listing’ opponents and actually arresting 11 NDFP consultants. However, the NDFP has taken a position and is ready to negotiate on the root causes of the conflict, such as genuine land reform, implementation of agreements on human rights, the workers’ struggle, and social and economic reforms.
To allow talks to take place there must be safety and immunity guarantees and the dropping of charges against NDFP panellists and consultants. Outstanding human rights issues also have to be resolved, including the release of political prisoners and the Morong 43 health workers, with an end to extrajudicial killings of trade union activists and other civilians. There needs to be some preliminary talks to set the necessary steps to resume formal talks in Oslo, Norway and to reconvene the Joint Monitoring Commission in Oslo, Norway.
So far, there has only been a “show of peace” from the government, which is working according to the US Counter-Insurgency 2009 blueprint document, and pressing for a military victory. In these circumstances, the armed struggle must continue at the same time as negotiations are conducted to resolve the basic issues. In the course of negotiations, if and when reforms are undertaken, there is the possibility of a truce, but no surrender of weapons.
Vanguard: Has there been any significant change in the political atmosphere in the Philippines since the election of Aquino – for example, the situation of political prisoners and trade union activists?
LJ/CL: There has been no change at all. While 388 political prisoners are still held in gaol, as well as the 43 Morong health workers, the government has released more than 400 soldiers who participated in the last abortive military coup attempts.
The ‘honeymoon period’ of the new government just didn’t happen. Extrajudicial killing of trade union activists continues, now totalling 97. In fact, there have been 25 killings since Aquino was elected, more than one for every week he has been in power. The most recent insult to the people is the news that US troops are to hold exercises on the Hacienda Luisita where the people are still waiting for justice following the brutal military massacre of unarmed workers and peasants there in 2004.  
Vanguard: What is the role of US imperialism in the Philippines?
LJ/CL: US imperialism has been a basic problem for the Filipino people since 1898. It dominates economic and political life in the Philippines and exerts control over the military to sustain the local ruling classes. It uses the big bourgeois compradors and landlords to control the state to exploit and oppress the workers and peasants. It keeps the Philippines as an under-developed country, forcing the people into great poverty and as a source of cheap labour.
There is increasing US military intervention in the Philippines under the Visiting Forces Agreement with more and more “exercises” leading to thousands of US troops staying for extended periods. There are at least 600 special forces in Mindanao, allegedly to fight the Abu Sayiff kidnap-ransom gang (established by the CIA), but also involved in combat operations against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s Army.
The US military equips and maintains the 250,000 armed forces of the Philippines. Australia also trains about 130 Filipino officers each year.


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