Philippine leftist rebels are being pushed into oblivion by Facebook and the Internet as rebellious youths now vent online instead of taking up arms against the state, a peace negotiator said Thursday.
Chief negotiator Alex Padilla said the Internet had helped steer university students away from the rebels, whom he said had been reduced to recruiting school dropouts and the unschooled.
New President Benigno Aquino resumed peace talks with the Maoist rebels this year with Norway playing host after a seven-year lull, convinced the insurgents were going nowhere and would sign a peace settlement in 18 months.
"There has been a lack of, or dearth of youthful ideologues actually being brought up. They have been unable to harness their proteges among the younger groups," Padilla said, noting that most rebels leaders are over 70.
"They are now recruiting not students from the university as before but out-of-school youth," said Padilla, who put the rebels' popular support at no more than three million out of the national population of about 94 million.
Padilla said rising use of the Internet and social networking sites had curtailed the pool of new recruits into the Communist Party of the Philippines and its 5,000-member armed wing, the New People's Army.
"I think Facebook has played a role because I think the interests of the youth now are far different from 30 years ago, when there were less avenues for engaging other people."
Left on its own and with continued economic growth, the government believes the 42-year rebellion would eventually die a natural death, Padilla said.
However, the government believes it is best to speed up the process through talks and thus prevent further bloodletting, he said.
Military statistics show the insurgency, which has largely relied on extortion to sustain itself after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, still claims hundreds of lives every year.
"There is reason to hope for a possible end, but at the same time we are realistic," Padilla said.
He said he was giving himself no more than three years to get the rebels to sign a peace deal, and if they did not it would only mean they were not interested in a settlement after 24 years of on-and-off talks.
"If we are unable to meet this time frame we don't want to negotiate for another 24 years," he said.
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