THE struggling new President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, is getting support from revolutionary movements - the communist and popular activists seeking a halt to their relentless war with soldiers and armed vigilantes.

 

The National Democratic Front, an alliance of 17 clandestine opposition groups including the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army, has welcomed Mr Aquino's recent appointment of a respected human rights lawyer, Alexander Padilla, to resume negotiations.

 

The front's chairman, Luis Jalandoni, is in Australia asking the government to put its support behind a new peace process that will be brokered by Norway. He will meet senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on Monday. ''We're not sure if he [Mr Aquino] has the political will but we think it's worth a try,'' he said.

Since winning elections this year, Mr Aquino - whose father was the opposition leader of the same name assassinated at Manila's airport and whose mother, Corazon, later became president - has been stymied by entrenched interests.

 

His attempts to set up panels to investigate corruption and abuses have been blocked by a Supreme Court stacked with judges appointed by his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. During her nine-year rule, some 1200 political activists and human rights workers were murdered by shadowy death squads, along with 62 journalists. Negotiations with the National Democratic Front, begun in 1992, stopped in 2005.

 

Mr Jalandoni said the American-led ''war on terror'' provided the excuse and resources for stepped-up counter-insurgency operations, not only against the al Qaeda-linked Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the south, but against the leftist guerilla movement throughout the country which the US, Australia and other Western governments added to their lists of terrorist organisations.

 

Mr Jalandoni has been seeking safe passage into Manila to meet Mr Aquino before reopened peace talks in Oslo early next year.

 

Also published on hardcopy of the Sydney Morning Herald today.