In the next few days President Duterte is expected to focus on key aspects of his official visit to China on October 19-21, primarily his formal meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. But after his return he needs to immediately attend to and decisively resolve certain urgent issues.
Top among the issues have to do with the GRP-NDF peace negotiations that he himself set in motion in mid-June. Two rounds of formal talks have been held in Oslo, Norway: The first, in August, brimmed with sheer euphoria. The second one closed this week with an air of guarded optimism.
What dampened the optimism in the second round of talks? It seems the GRP panel fell short on its promise (made in the August 27 joint statement by the parties), to “immediately recommend” to President Duterte the issuance of an amnesty proclamation for the further release of political prisoners listed by the NDFP. There was an earlier batch of 81 whom he had committed to release on humanitarian grounds, and no one has yet been freed either.
The GRP panel explained that its draft amnesty proclamation had been submitted to Executive Secretary Medialdea only on September 27. The problem is, the two panels had agreed to forge, by October 27, a bilateral interim ceasefire agreement that would correlate, on the same date, President Duterte’s issuance of the amnesty proclamation. Because of the delayed submission, and given the president’s trip to China, it’s doubtful if the proclamation can happen on or before October 27. (Once signed, it’ll have to be sent to Congress for the latter’s concurrence.)
In late August the two parties had agreed to reconcile and develop their respective unilateral ceasefire declarations into a bilateral interim agreement by October 27. The bilateral accord, with unified implementing rules, is intended to prevail during the entire period of the peace negotiations. Last week the panels ended discussions on the matter without a conclusive agreement. Thus, both the amnesty proclamation and the bilateral ceasefire accord are now up in the air.
The NDFP panel has conveyed its concern that continued failure to comply with the promise to release political prisoners can have “serious consequences to the continuation of the current unilateral ceasefires and the forward movement of the peace negotiations.”
Absent common implementing rules, the AFP and the NPA have been observing their unilateral ceasefires with differing guidelines. No armed encounter between the two forces has so far been reported. However, the NDFP has raised concerns over reports, collated by NPA spokesperson Jorge Madlos, that AFP units have continued to conduct military operations in civilian communities “from Northern Luzon to Southern Mindanao.” Madlos pointed out that NPA units in areas where AFP conducted operations have been averting encounters by maneuvering away from the state troops.
Madlos alluded to AFP deception of residents to justify their intrusions, to conduct “barangay immersion” and “peace and development” missions, in the communities they enter and occupy. He cited an instance in Sallapadan, Abra, when officers of the Philippine Army’s 24th IB told the people that the ceasefire had ended. Another AFP officer, he added, claimed they could do military operations without fear of NPA attack because the latter had their own ceasefire.
Madlos’ information was authenticated by no less than the chief of the AFP’s Eastern Mindanao Command, Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero. Speaking at a celebration of his command’s 10th anniversary on August 28,the general said:
“Now that the ceasefire with the CPP-NPA is in effect, we expect that the implementation of the government’s peace and development programs in the countryside will be able to proceed much faster, providing the much-needed services to even the remotest barangays.” Enjoining his troops to rededicate themselves to their sworn duty, he added: “I also call on our partners and stakeholders to continue in supporting our efforts to clear the remaining 156 NPA-affected barangays by yearend.”
President Duterte must say categorically whether Gen. Guerrero’s statement conforms with – or violates – the intent of the unilateral ceasefire that he, as AFP commander-in-chief, declared in August.
He should also listen and respond positively to the repeated appeals to him to stop the killings of tribal people, such as the lumad of Mindanao, and the harassment of their school officials, teachers and pupils by paramilitary groups. They welcomed his order to disband these groups. And since he had definitively said that the paramilitary groups were organized and armed by the AFP, he should hold the latter responsible for the killings and harassments. The latest killing happened on October 10 in Compostela Valley, and the murder victim was Jimmy Saypan, a lumad anti-mining activist.
This, in fact, was the message to Malacanang by some 3,000 indigenous people (lumad and Moro) from Mindanao, and Southern Tagalog (Mangyan, Dumagat, Pala’wan) who marched to Mendiola just this Thursday. They composed the Lakbayan 2016 that started from Mindanao and crossed to Leyte-Samar, Bicol to Southern Tagalog, then to Manila. They are now encamped in the UP Diliman campus.
Kaerlan Fanagel, a B’laan leader and Lakbayan spokesman, has good news for the President: On a 1-to-10 scale the lumad are giving him a grade of 8 for his first 100 days in office. They laud his initiative, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, to review and suspend certain mining operations in Mindanao. They welcomed as well the government’s move, through the Department of Agrarian Reform, to pursue land reform and issue a two-year moratorium on land-use conversion of agricultural lands.
But the Lakbayan marchers are not yet satisfied. “We want more positive actions!” they shouted upon arriving at Mendiola.
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Published in the Philippine Star
Oct. 15, 2016