An atmosphere of euphoria, enhanced amity, and an improving level of mutual trust between the negotiating panels was so evident at the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front, held recently in Oslo, Norway.
When they converged at the venue (the Scandic Holmenkollen Park hotel atop a hill overlooking the city of Oslo), members of both panels greeted one another like long-time friends (which some of them actually are). They chatted and laughed at each other’s jokes. Even at the formal negotiating table, occasional banter lightened up the serious discussions. The third-party facilitator, Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum of the Royal Norwegian Government, seemed to be amused. [Disclosure: this columnist was there.]
Underlying the positive atmosphere was the fact that the two sides reached an understanding on six action points that essentially call for rectifying violations of previous agreements and the delays caused by the prolonged suspension – all together 15 years – during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations.
Thus, after signing on a joint statement on Aug. 26, both panels agreed that what they had accomplished in five days was “a good beginning” for the ensuing negotiations in the months (or years) ahead. The panels will take up the three remaining substantive agenda: social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces (of both sides).
The six points are: reaffirmation of 12 previous agreements signed since Sept. 1, 1992; reconstitution of the list of persons given protection by the 1995 Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG); acceleration of the peace negotiations; release of detained NDFP consultants; amnesty proclamation by President Duterte for about 500 political prisoners listed by the NDFP; and unilateral ceasefires to be worked out within 60 days towards a “single unified bilateral document,” subject to the approval of each panel’s principal.
Which agreements were violated by which party, and what specific terms in the agreements were violated? Let’s take a brief look into these issues.
It’s the government, specifically under the Arroyo and Aquino administrations, that is called to account for having violated both the JASIG and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). The peace talks were suspended for nine years under Arroyo, and almost six years under Aquino.
The violations consisted mainly in the arrest and detention of several NDFP consultants and other persons under JASIG protection, plus the filing of multiple charges against them and subjecting them to trial for common criminal offenses, rather than for rebellion as required by the Hernandez “political doctrine” jurisprudence. Three NDFP consultants have already been convicted of common criminal offenses.
Under the JASIG, safety guarantees “shall mean that all duly accredited persons… in possession of documents of identification or safe conduct passes, are guaranteed free and unhampered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in travelling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the peace negotiations.”
Immunity guarantees “shall mean that all duly accredited persons are guaranteed immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.” Such immunities “shall remain in full force and effect even after the termination of the JASIG.”
Moreover, in all cases involving duly accredited persons, the prosecutors “shall move for the suspension, during the peace negotiations, of criminal proceedings or processes including arrest and search,” for acts allegedly committed before JASIG came into effect.
Disregard of the JASIG started under the Arroyo government, which also initiated a “legal offensive” against suspected Leftists, both underground and aboveground, through an administrative order creating the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG). It was the IALAG that filed a ludicrous rebellion charge in 2006 against six progressive party-list representatives sitting in Congress (including this columnist). The case was thrown out by the Supreme Court in July 2007.
Despite IALAG’s dissolution, the “legal offensive” was continued with ferociousness by the Aquino administration. Almost all of the 500 current political detainees were thrown in jail for alleged common criminal offenses; among them are 19 NDFP consultants released on the instance of President Duterte and allowed to travel to Oslo to participate in the peace talks.
Thus, in the August 26 Joint Statement, the NDFP expressed appreciation for Duterte’s efforts “to fullfill his promise to order the release of NDFP consultants in pursuit of peace and with due consideration to JASIG, as recommended by the GRP panel.” Further, it thanked the president for promising to cause the early release of prisoners on humanitarian grounds, being sick, elderly, detained for overly long periods of time, or women.
As for the rest of the 500 political prisoners, the two parties agreed that the GRP panel will immediately recommend to President Duterte to issue an Amnesty Proclamation, subject to the concurrence of Congress, for the release of those listed by the NDFP “who have been arrested, imprisoned, charged, and/or convicted for alleged acts or omission” (under the Revised Penal Code or special laws) “in connection with alleged crimes in pursuit of one’s political beliefs.”
A veritable step forward for human rights and justice: that could rightly be said after the round of peace talks that ended last week.
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Published in Philippine Star
Sept. 3, 2016