“Agreements are binding and not only pieces of paper. One of the basic principles of international law is that agreements must be executed in good faith. There are no documents without obligation.” – Jan Fermon, professor of law at the University of Maastricht and a member of the International Legal Advisory Team
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A group of international legal experts urged the Aquino government to comply with the past agreements it signed with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In a press conference via Skype from Utrecht, the Netherlands, Nov.14, members of the newly-formed International Legal Advisory Team (Ilat) said that if the Government of the Philippine (GPH) wants peace talks to move forward, it must respect the 12 important agreements signed by both parties since 1992.
Peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP have been stalled since June, with the GPH refusing to release the remaining 13 NDFP detained consultants. The NDFP decried it as a violation of Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and of Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
Jan Fermon, professor of law at the University of Maastricht and a member of Ilat, said the GPH has not respected its own commitment to abide by the agreements it has signed. “The only way?forward,” he declared, “is to respect and comply with these agreements.”
The more than 40-year old armed revolutionary struggle in the Philippines is the longest in Asia.
“Agreements are binding and not only pieces of paper,” Fermon said. “One of the basic principles of international law is that agreements must be executed in good faith. There are no documents without obligation.”
International law has been the basis in the crafting of the CARHRIHL. The other substantive agenda laid down under the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 namely, the agreement on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and even the end of hostilities and disposition of forces will be guided by international law, according to Jose Maria Sison, NDFP chief political consultant.
The Ilat, composed of 13 legal experts from the US, Europe, Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the Philippines, was formed in June to advise and assist the NDFP peace panel on the peace negotiations, international human rights and humanitarian laws.
The legal experts expressed alarm over what they call criminalization of activists in the Philippines.
“Governments that genuinely want peace have to stop criminalizing those who wage just struggles,” Richard Harvey who practices international human rights law in the United Kingdom, United States and United Nations international criminal tribunals, said.
Sison said the common crimes filed against the Jasig-protected individuals and other political prisoners are fabricated.
At the beginning of the peace talks between the GPH and NDFP under the Aquino administration, 17 Jasig-protected individuals were detained. Four have been released so far. “GPH refusal to release them has been a major obstacle to the resumption of peace talks because without compliance to Jasig, the panelists and consultants cannot function,” said Luis Jalandoni, NDFP peace panel chairman, said.
In its statement, the GPH panel insisted it cannot release the remaining NDFP consultants because the verification process to determine whether they are indeed Jasig-protected failed.
Sison said two of those detained — Alan Jazmines and Tirso Alcantara – have been publicly known to be participants in the peace talks before their arrest.
Harvey said the GPH must abide by the agreement on security and immunity and all other international human rights law.
Anna Moris, another member of Ilat who holds a master’s degree in international human rights, said Jasig is a binding agreement. “Any attempt to move back [from previous agreements] is a serious concern not only for the Filipino people but for the international community as well.”
Jalandoni said the GPH had agreed to reconstitute the list of Jasig-protected individuals after the failure to open the safety deposit box containing the information.
Sison said the Arroyo administration violated the Jasig when it lobbied for his inclusion to the terrorist list of the United States and the European Union.
Fermon said the European Court of Justice twice cancelled the listing of Sison.
Harvey, who has advised governments including South Africa and Haiti, said he was reminded of their former prime minister by the name of MargaretThatcher who referred to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and murderer.
Other members of the Ilat are Jo Dereymaeker from Belgium, Edre Olalia and Mary Kristerie Baleva from the Philippines, Bill Bowring from United Kingdom, Marjorie Cohn, Lennox Hinds and Jeanne Mirer from the United States, Judge Juan Salvador Guzman Tapia from Chile, Justice Pius Langa from South Africa and Jitendra Sharma from India.
Jalandoni accused the GPH of undermining even The Hague Joint Declaration, considered as the framework agreement. Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, called it a document of perpetual division.
“Instead of complying with basic agreements, the GPH engages in continuous, vicious, deceptive and even simplistic propaganda attacks against the NDFP and avoids or refuses to seriously sit down and?tackle the questions and issues on social, economic and political reforms. It perpetrates widespread human rights violations and has not effectively staved off the climate of impunity,” Jalandoni said.
Jalandoni said the NDFP is “firmly committed to pursue peace negotiations that address?the roots of the armed conflict.”
He said an offer of the NDFP for alliance and truce, presented last January, has so far no adequate and concrete response from GPH President Aquino. The offer is based on a ten-point program expressing the fundamental aspirations of the Filipino people for land reform, national industrialization, genuine national independence and democracy.??Jalandoni said if the GPH continues to refuse to comply with agreements, the revolutionary struggle will continue. and international human rights bodies.