Within three weeks from his inauguration as the 16th President on June 30, Rodrigo R. Duterte will resume the formal peace negotiations – in limbo since 2013 – between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The talks will reopen ahead of his first state-of-the-nation address on July 25.
And to enhance the positive atmosphere for the negotiations, Duterte will soon order the release from prison of 18 NDFP peace consultants and staff allowing them to join in the talks; other political prisoners will also be released on humanitarian grounds.
Such swift fulfilment of his campaign promise contrasts with that of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who took eight months to do it after assuming office on July 1, 2010. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took even longer – three years – before redeeming her vow to resume the peace talks that had been scuttled by ousted President Joseph Estrada.
Both Arroyo and Aquino, however, failed to follow through their initial steps, leaving the peace talks indefinitely suspended for the rest of their respective administrations.
Duterte started his “bold, out-of-the-box” approach by meeting in Davao with a member of the NDFP panel, Fidel V. Agcaoili. This week he sent to Oslo, Norway his designated adviser on the peace process, Jesus Dureza, and chief peace negotiator, labor secretary-designate Silverio Bello III, to hold preliminary talks with NDFP panel members led by Luis Jalandoni.
Facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government’s special envoy Elizabeth Slattum, the talks took just two days, June 14-15. The parties wound up discussions at 1 a.m. Wednesday by signing and publicly issuing a joint statement on resuming the formal negotiations in the third week of July.
The formal negotiations, the parties agreed, will take up the following agenda:
• Affirmation of all previously signed agreements since Sept. 1, 1992, when the Joint Declaration of The Hague, was signed; it defined the character and the agenda of the peace talks;
• Acceleration of the pace of the negotiations covering the three remaining items on the agenda: social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and ending of hostilities and disposition of (armed) forces;
• Reconstitution of the NDFP list of consultants and personnel protected by the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG);
• Amnesty proclamation for all political prisoners (subject to the concurrence of Congress); and
• Mode of an interim mutual ceasefire agreement (which shall hold during the entire duration ol the peace talks).
The parties discussed at least three draft documents: an interim mutual ceasefire agreement, an amnesty proclamation, and accelerated pace of the negotiations. After inserting in the texts mutually accepted amendments, the participants initialled the documents. These will be finalized and signed during the formal negotiations.
Let’s look back a bit. Both the affirmation of previous agreements and the acceleration of the negotiations (within 18 months) were contained in a joint statement signed by the GPH and NDFP panels on Feb. 21, 2011, when P-Noy redeemed his campaign promise to resume the formal talks.
By June 2011, however, the talks bogged down. Cause 1: The GPH panel, egged on by presidential peace adviser Teresita Q. Deles whom P-Noy had designated to oversee the peace talks, questioned the integrity of the Hague Joint Declaration by calling it a “document of perpetual division.”
Cause 2: The GPH panel opposed the release of NDFP consultants who had been arrested and detained, despite their holding documents of identification, using aliases, which was allowed under the JASIG. To check the veracity of the questioned IDs, the panels agreed to retrieve the master list of NDFP ID holders contained in an old-type computer diskette kept by a third party in a bank vault in The Hague. Having been untouched since 1995, the diskette was found warped and couldn’t be opened anymore. The NDP panel offered to reconstitute the list, but the GPH panel spurned the offer and subsequently unilaterally declared the JASIG “inoperative.” P-Noy didn’t intervene to resolve the problem.
In contrast, Duterte generated much hope and enthusiasm by promising to release political prisoners if the preliminary talks proved to be successful. And they did. Both sides have declared high satisfaction over what they achieved in the two-day preliminary talks.
The third party facilitator, Ambassador Slattum, congratulated the two parties for the “positive, optimistic and very productive atmosphere” that pervaded the discussions. “I am very pleased that you have decided to pursue the formal talks. I look forward to welcoming you back in Oslo in July,” she said.
From the very start of the Oslo meetings, the mutual warmth, confidence and trust between the two sides was evident. Bantering spiced up the two-day discussions. There’s an explanation for these.
Bello, Dureza, and the third member of their team, Hernani Braganza, have all been previously involved in the peace talks. Bello and Dureza played important roles in forging most of the 10 major agreements signed under President Fidel V. Ramos’ watch. Bello consistently defended the integrity of the agreements that Deles sought to disparage under the cover of P-Noy’s lackadaisical stance.
Braganza was involved in the brief negotiations under Arroyo, which produced two signed supplementary agreements in Oslo. Later, with P-Noy’s tacit approval, he endeavored to work out with the NDFP a fast-track approach to resuming the talks. That track could have succeeded, had not Deles interdicted its progression.
One can assume that Duterte’s decisive early move, even before taking his oath of office, shows his seriousness to negotiate and conclude a comprehensive peace agreement with the Left revolutionary movement’s leadership in the best interest of the Filipino people – such as social justice for the poor.. Let’s watch what comes after the formal negotiations begin.
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Published in the Philippine Star
June 18. 2016