Satur C. Ocampo | Resolving Hindrances, Going Farther Toward Peace

At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
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Yesterday the momentum for the resumption of formal peace talks between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines went a notch higher when the full negotiating panels began a five-day preliminary meeting (Jan. 14-18) in Oslo, Norway.

The preliminary meeting was agreed on last Dec. 1-2 in Hong Kong between Alexander Padilla and Luis Jalandoni, chairpersons of the GRP and NDFP panels, respectively. It aims to resolve certain issues that will clear the way for the resumption of formal talks in Oslo on Feb. 15-21, facilitated by the Norwegian foreign ministry.

Six years back, in August 2004, the Arroyo government suspended the formal talks, wrongly interpreting the NDFP call for postponement to break a deadlock as “withdrawal from the peace negotiations.” Gloria Arroyo then ordered the AFP to defeat the CPP-NPA by the end of her term in June 2010. That plan (through Oplan Bantay-Laya) failed.

Key issues in the preliminary meeting – which are crucial and decisive to the resumption and progress of the formal talks – are compliance with the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and implementation of the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Other issues are “confidence-building and goodwill measures” to enhance the favorable atmosphere for the formal talks. The NDFP is bringing up CARHRIHL-related issues, such as the release of political prisoners, trumped-up criminal charges against suspected or identified CPP-NPA/NDFP members, and the indemnification of the victims of human rights violations by the Marcos dictatorship.

The GRP panel indicates it may raise the issues of revolutionary taxation and use of land mines by the NPA.

The formal talks in February will affirm the agreements on compliance with the JASIG and the CARHRIHL expected to result from the preliminary meeting and those on confidence-building and goodwill measures. They will also reaffirm all previously signed agreements since 1992, resume and accelerate negotiations on social and economic reforms by the reciprocal working committees, and begin discussions on forming working groups on political and constitutional reforms.

Although the JASIG applies to both sides, problems have arisen only over the GRP’s interpretation of and compliance with the agreement. These have resulted, Jalandoni avers, in the arrest and detention by the Arroyo government of 11 NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons. The arrest last Jan. 4 of Tirso Alcantara, he adds, raised the number to 12.

In a Jan. 5 letter to GRP panel chairperson Padilla, Jalandoni called for the release “as soon as possible” of Alcantara, whom he confirmed to be a consultant covered by JASIG’s security guarantee. Officials of the Aquino government and the AFP claim otherwise.

Needing to be clarified and agreed on are the extent and forms of protection of persons covered by the JASIG.

For instance, the list of NDFP holders of documents of identification (DI) given to two former GRP panel heads, Ambassador Howard Dee in 1996 and Silvestre Bello III in 2001, contains mostly assumed names. The use of aliases was agreed on to protect the security of those involved in the peace talks. In view of the dispute over Alcantara’s arrest, Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali urged the NDFP to include in the list of names a photograph of each holder “to preclude substitution.” Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada supported the idea “for the sake of transparency.”

Also needing to be settled are whether the ID holder must always carry such document and present it when accosted by state security forces, and whether JASIG protection applies only when formal talks are going on. (After suspending the formal talks, Mrs. Arroyo suspended the JASIG’s effectivity in 2005, restoring it only in 2009 when moves to resume talks gained momentum, but fell through.)

As regards the CARHRIHL, its implementation can bring benefits to the Filipino people, particularly those who have suffered violations of their rights in the course of the long armed conflict. The two parties can agree to put into operation the Joint Monitoring Committee that is mandated to investigate complaints of human rights violations, prescribe sanctions against the offending party, and provide compensation to the civilian victims.

Had it been implemented assiduously after President Estrada and the NDFP Chair Mariano Orosa approved CARHRIHL in 1998, the unbridled incidents of political violence in the last 12 years could have been significantly reduced.

Serious implementation of CARHRIHL can best test the sincerity of the GRP and the NDFP in complying not only with its provisions but with all other agreements still to be arrived at. Mutual compliance will significantly improve the climate for continuing the peace talks.

If the GRP-NDFP talks produce tangible agreements on these matters, they can disprove the cynicism of those in the government, in media and certain sections of the population who are already dismissing the peace talks as a waste of time and resources.

Now is the time for genuine peace advocates to reinvigorate their efforts to push the negotiations forward. This is after all a birthing process. ()

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