By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines seem to be on the verge of collapse with the recent announcement of Alexander Padilla head of the GPH panel. He was quoted saying that the Aquino government could no longer wait for the NDFP to sit down with them without ‘preconditions’, pointing to the demand of the NDFP to release its consultants who are currently in jail.
Padilla also said that the regular track has been stalled and the special track was killed by this ‘precondition’ being set by the NDFP. The GPH panel has always maintained that the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or Jasig is a side issue and that the more important things are contained in the substantive agenda.
The government, he said, is proceeding with a “new course,” hinting at localized peace talks.
The NDFP, on the other hand, said that the matter of the release of detained NDFP consultants is not a precondition but a fulfillment of previous agreements, specifically the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig). The NDFP believes that the Jasig could not be relegated to being a side issue because it sets the conditions conducive to the talks. How else could both panels negotiate freely if one or both feels that the other is spying on the other and is just waiting for the opportunity to pounce on the other’s personnel? And besides, the NDFP said, how could one panel be trusted to abide by future agreements if it refuses to abide by current agreements such as the Jasig?
Luis Jalandoni, NDFP negotiating panel chairman, also slammed the GPH’s demand for an indefinite ceasefire as a precondition to the talks, which, he said, is a violation of the framework in the negotiations agreed upon by both parties as embodied in the The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, which clearly sets the sequence of the agenda and places the matter of cessation of hostilities at the end of the negotiations, after three substantive and important agreements – on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms – have been forged. The first agreement has been signed in 1998: the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.
Jalandoni said, nevertheless, they are still open to talking peace with the government.
Who is right and who is wrong? You decide.
But the Aquino government could not simply lay the blame on the other side for ‘killing’ the peace talks. There are two contending forces and there would always be two positions. The important thing is for the two panels to work out how to move forward. And unless one panel makes a move that would undermine the talks and show that it is negotiating in bad faith by blatantly breaching or disregarding previous agreements, the failure of the talks would lie on the one who ended it. Impatience could never be an excuse in ending important negotiations that could chart the direction this country would take.
Both the GPH and the NDFP panels know that the government’s move to shift to localized peace talks spells doom for the negotiations. It has not worked before and it will not work now. It is a track not designed to achieve success in the negotiations, rather it is a divide and rule tactic.
It is most unfortunate that the Aquino government decided to end the talks, especially now that its own statistics show that it is not making a dent in addressing poverty. The National Statistics Coordination Board said it is even much harder now to rise up from poverty compared to before.
The value of the peace negotiations is not so much in putting an end to armed clashes nor in resolving the armed conflict between the two parties. Its importance and significance to the lives of the Filipino people lies in the expressed objective of the peace negotiations: to address the roots of the armed conflict, which is something as basic as poverty and social injustices.
If the GPH and the Armed Forces of the Philippines would have its way, it would try to decimate the CPP-NPA-NDFP; the NDFP, on the other hand, has been open about its belief in the need for an armed revolution. So if the peace talks fail, both parties would just be resuming what it set out to do in the first place. However, if the peace talks fail, it would close the door on one possible venue for addressing poverty and social injustices. So in the end, it is the Filipino people who have much to lose if the talks fail.