Next Agenda in GPH-NDFP Talks Can Make or Break Peace Process

Forging the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms is said to be the “meat” of the negotiations as it aims to resolve the root causes of poverty and lack of development in the Philippines.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA—After the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) agreed to resume formal peace talks, the two panels would proceed to the next substantive agenda: socio-economic reforms.

The item on socio-economic reforms is the second in the four substantive agenda laid down in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl), signed by both parties in 1999, was the first item in the agenda and became the first agreement forged during the peace negotiations.

After an agreement on socio-economic reforms has been hammered out, next in the agenda are political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Both parties agree that the Caser negotiations will be challenging. In a 2004 interview with Bulatlat.com, Luis Jalandoni, chairman of thr NDFP panel, said “the NDFP expects the negotiations on these topics, such as land reform and national industrialization, which are at the very root of the 35-year-old civil war in our country, to be tougher than the negotiations on (Carhrihl).”

Still, the panels agreed to reaffirm all previously signed agreements. When the peace talks reached an impasse in 2004, the respective reciprocal working committees of both panels drafted separate proposals for a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser). The GPH’s Caser contains 13 pages while the NDFP’s version is 38 pages.

The GPH gave the assurance that Rafael Baylosis and Randall Echanis, who are members of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms and NDFP consultant Vicente Ladlad, are free to participate in the formal talks in February.

The three, although covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), have been charged with criminal cases by the military and the government. The three have asserted that the charges that were filed against them were trumped-up. Echanis was arrested in January 2008 in Bago City, Negros Occidental, while conducting a consultation with sugar workers for the Caser. He was later ordered released on bail by the Supreme Court.


The peace panels signing the joint communiqué that paves the way for formal negotiations in February. (Photo by Artemio Dumlao / bulatlat.com)

In a statement, NDFP panel chairman Luis Jalandoni said that while the NDFP is ready to exert serious efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the armed conflict, the difficulties ahead could not be underestimated because of the wide divergence in the current positions of the two parties on such important issues as land reform, national industrialization and assertion of national sovereignty.

Caser is said to be the “meat” of the negotiations as it aims to resolve the root causes of poverty and lack of development plaguing the country. Caser would make or break any political settlement for the two parties.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has said it will demand for an end to the Aquino government’s policies of privatization, deregulation and neoliberalization when formal peace negotiations resume in February in Oslo, Norway.

“The denationalization, privatization, deregulation and neoliberalization policies of the Aquino government are among the most onerous and anti-people economic policies imposed by US imperialists through the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other international funding and finance agencies,” the CPP said. “This has been the cornerstone of the economic policies of the puppet Philippine government since the first Aquino regime in the late 1980s and has been the source of superprofits for foreign big corporations and their local comprador partners.”

The CPP said that such policies have resulted in “grave hardships” for the Filipino people during the past two decades, citing the privatization and deregulation of the water, energy, oil, transportation, communications, health, education and other sectors that have subjected the people to the profit whims of “foreign and comprador commercial interests.”

There are no indications, however, that the Aquino government would veer away from such policies.

“Judging by its further public avowals to ensure the profitability and freedom from regulatory risks of participants in its banner Public-Private Partnership Program, the Aquino government is set to surpass all past regimes in terms of subservience to the interests of big foreign and comprador business interests,” said the CPP.

The CPP noted that the Aquino government has “exhibited extra vigor in pushing for and defending increases in the toll rates of the South and North Luzon expressways and increases in the fare rates for the MRT and LRT trains.”

The CPP added that even rates of water services in Metro Manila have been drastically raised by joint foreign and local service contractors, while the continuing hikes in electricity rates have been a perennial problem.

The CPP added that the Aquino government has shown complete indifference to the clamor of the Filipino people for urgent and fundamental economic reforms. “Aquino has shown no interest to carry out genuine and widespread land reform, especially as it is beholden to his big landlord clan’s feudal and comprador interests. His regime has no blueprint to develop the economy’s industrial and technological base in order to break its dependence on imports and foreign debt. He has remained deaf to the clamor for wage increases and policies to regulate oil prices amid the sharp rise in the people’s cost of living,” it said.

In an interview, former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said Caser would be a test to the new government. “The crucial question is whether the Aquino government would pursue its current policies or make adjustments to its economic policies,” he said.

Ocampo added that it remains to be seen whether the Aquino government would serve the interest of the Filipino people. ()

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