What Has Been Achieved in 25 Years of Peace Negotiations?

Photo courtesy by Bulatlat.com
Photo courtesy by Bulatlat.com

It would seem to many Filipinos that the peace negotiations between the government and the Communists have achieved nothing significant. Truth is, both panels have signed several important documents that should move the process forward. Would the Aquino administration genuinely commit to these earlier agreements?

By RONALYN V. OLEA, Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been engaged in peace negotiations for almost 25 years now. It has been a long process that, to many Filipinos, has seemingly achieved so little. After all, the Communist revolution is still raging in the countryside and the government has been trying all sorts of methods to suppress or defeat it.

In fact, much has been achieved in the peace process. The agreements and documents that both panels have signed in the past quarter of a century have been significant.

The GPH, then officially named Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), began peace talks with the NDFP soon after Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino took office after the first People Power uprising in 1986. As an act of goodwill, Aquino released hundreds of political prisoners, thus paving the way for the negotiations. The talks collapsed, however, after police fired upon protesting farmers on Jan. 22, 1987, in what is now known as the Mendiola Massacre.

Talks resumed in 1992, under the new administration of former general Fidel Ramos, when The Hague Joint Declaration was signed on Sept. 1 that same year. The agreement laid down the framework of the peace talks and the substantive agenda to be taken up.

Both parties agreed that formal peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP shall be held to resolve the armed conflict and that the common goal of the negotiations shall be the attainment of a just and lasting peace.

“The holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations,” the declaration states.

According to The Hague Joint Declaration, the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces. These agenda should be tackled in that particular order.

Years after the Hague agreement was signed, the NDFP would invoke its provisions again and again, especially since the GPH, according to the front, repeatedly violated the spirit and the letter of the agreement. The NDFP is the umbrella organization of revolutionary groups in the Philippines, among them the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Next to be signed, on June 14, 1994 was the Breukelen Joint Statement. Here, confidence-building and goodwill measures are stated as voluntary undertakings of both parties. The NDFP asserts that political prisoners should not be treated and convicted as common criminals.

In the Breukelen Joint Statement, too, the NDFP endorsed the indemnification of victims of human-rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship and proposed the allocation to the victims of at least 30 percent of whatever money recovered from Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth.

To facilitate the peace negotiations, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) was signed by both parties on Feb. 24, 1995.

Under the Jasig, both parties have the inherent right to issue documents of identification to its negotiators, consultants, staffers, security and other personnel. Such documents, it says, shall be duly recognized as safe-conduct passes.

All persons with documents of identification or safe-conduct passes are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations, the Jasig states further.

Jasig also provides that upon presentation by the duly accredited person to any entity, authority or agent of the party concerned, the document of identification or safe-conduct pass shall be honored and respected and the duly accredited person shall be accorded due recognition and courtesy and allowed free and unhindered passage.

Immunity guarantees shall mean that all duly accredited persons of both parties are guaranteed immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.

But since Jasig was signed, the NDFP has been decrying the GPH’s violations. Under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, for instance, more than a dozen consultants and members of the NDFP peace panel and reciprocal working committees were arrested or abducted and charged with common crimes.

Recently, Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara, a top leader of the New People’s Army in the Southern Tagalog Region, was arrested by state agents. The NDFP has demanded his release, arguing that Alcantara is a holder of document of identification and, thus, covered by Jasig. The government countered by denying that Alcantara is covered by the Jasig and that the NDFP allegedly has the habit of putting in its list of negotiators or consultants arrested NPA leaders.

The NDFP fired back by saying the use of assumed names in documents of identification was agreed upon by both parties in June 1996, in a document titled Additional Implementing Rules Pertaining to the Documents of Identification. Presumably, Alcantara is covered by the Jasig under an assumed name or alias.

What followed afterward are ground rules, procedural and supplemental agreements to Jasig and reciprocal working committees for each substantive agenda item, all signed by both parties between 1995 and 1998.

The first substantive agreement, which many considered a major breakthrough, was the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed by both parties on March 16, 1998.

In gist, the CARHRIHL states that both parties shall adhere to and be bound by the principles and standards embodied in international instruments on human rights. The agreement also “seeks to confront, remedy and prevent the most serious human rights violations in terms of civil and political rights, as well as to uphold, protect and promote the full scope of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Other important provisions of the CARHRIHL include the GPH’s indemnification of martial-law victims, the repeal of repressive laws, decrees and issuances and a review on jurisprudence on warrantless arrest, among others. Unfortunately, none has been done so far in relation to these provisions.

The CARHRIHL also adopts provisions on generally accepted principles and standards of international humanitarian law.

The agreement also states the formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) that shall monitor the implementation of the CARHRIHL. The JMC was formed only in April 2004 and has not reconvened since then. Complaints have been filed against each party since then but the GPH has refused to reconvene the JMC to discuss alleged violations of both parties of the CARHRIHL.

After the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in 2001, the GPH under Arroyo resumed formal peace talks with the NDFP in April that same year.

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States had an impact on the peace talks. As part of its supposed global war on terror, the United States State Department designated in August 2002 the CPP, the NPA and Jose Maria Sison, who serves as chief political consultant of the NDFP in the negotiations, as terrorists or terrorist organizations. The Council of the European Union and other states followed suit. Then Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople admitted that a “special team” that he headed campaigned for the inclusion of CPP, NPA and Sison in the terror lists of the European member states.

In January 2003, the GPH offered the so-called Final Peace Accord (FPA) with the NDFP. The 29-page FPA specifically asks the NDFP to submit a roster of NPA guerillas and an inventory of firearms and demobilize the NPA within six months. The NDFP viewed the FPA as move to force the NDFP into capitulation. It also said that the accord is in violation of the Hague Joint Declaration, which states that disposition of forces — which was in effect what the government wanted to achieve – is the last agenda to be taken up in the negotiations.

In February and April 2004, two joint statements were issued in Oslo, Norway. Both parties reaffirmed the Hague Joint Declaration, the Jasig, the CARHRIHL and seven other agreements. The GPH agreed to “take effective measures” to resolve the issue of terrorist listing in order to advance the peace talks.

Upon arriving in Manila, though, the GPH, through presidential adviser on the peace process Secretary Teresita Deles, insisted that the inclusion of the CPP, NPA and Sison in foreign terror lists were “sovereign acts of these states, independent of the GRP disposition regarding these matters.” NDFP peace panel chairman Luis Jalandoni reacted by saying Deles’s statements smacked of “treachery, malice and deception.”

Just the same, both parties agreed to accelerate the work of the respective reciprocal working committees (RWCs) for the socio-economic reforms agenda.

The Oslo agreements also called for the indemnification of victims of human-rights violations under the Marcos regime: the segregation of US$150 million or at least PhP8 billion from the recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth to compensate the victims, and for the GPH to exert its utmost initiative to obtain passage of an administration bill for the compensation of martial-law victims of human-rights violations.

Up to now, however, no compensation has been given to the victims and the compensation bill has not been passed.

In August 2005, the talks collapsed after the GPH refused to abide by previously signed agreements and insisted on an indefinite ceasefire as a precondition for any resumption. The NDFP said this was a violation of the Hague Joint Declaration.

It is interesting to note that not a single agreement was signed by both panels in the nine years of the Arroyo administration. The Arroyo regime instead opted for a militarist solution to the armed conflict with the implementation of the counterinsurgency programs Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2. The CPP, on the other hand, declared these programs a failure.

Would the GPH, under the new Aquino administration, abide by the previously signed agreements? The first Joint Communique seems promising but it remains to be seen whether the GPH would make true on these prior commitments. (Re-posted with permission by BICOLTODAY.com)


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