(This is my response to Mr. Edwin G. Espejo, a member of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Peace Panel Communications Group, who wrote a piece on rappler.com about the second round of GRP-NDFP [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] peace talks held last Oct. 6 to 9.)
I wish to put on record why I write about the peace talks and what guidelines I follow to keep my commentaries fair, that these do not run counter to the written agreements, and are contributory to the goal of reaching a just and lasting peace.
I am acutely aware of the need to give due respect to the prerogatives of the respective peace panels and the need for a media embargo on what transpires while each round of talks are ongoing. In fact, whatever I write during the actual talks is generally on positive developments or merely to describe the atmosphere without going into detail on contentious points. (To read Ms. Araullo’s piece, “Second round of peace talks on track,” please visit the link https://goo.gl/LEz81u).
It is another matter once the round of talks is concluded.
It stands to reason that I will include points of contention. It would be a disservice to keep painting a rosy picture when the differences between the two Parties become more sharply delineated as the talks proceed to the substantive agenda.
Mr. Espejo accuses me of impropriety for allegedly “hurl(ing) some serious issues and criticisms against the government panel… (a)nd in the same breath heap(ing) all praises to the NDFP.” I urge the reader to take the time to read my entire opinion piece and judge for herself if the accusation has any basis.
Mr. Espejo appears to be defensive about my observation that “(o)n top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER (Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reform).”
This observation however is based on fact that is verifiable. As I wrote, the GRP RWC-SER “did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP.”
Mr. Espejo’s attempt to explain away this glaring contrast between the two Parties’ preparedness to negotiate on major socioeconomic reforms is quite lame. He advances the theory that “the GRP panel are there to receive proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.” He concludes illogically that the GRP panel is “not duty bound to present its own…”
He quickly acknowledges however that “the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms.” What he conveniently omits is that several weeks before the second round of talks, the agreement was that there would be an exchange of each side’s respective draft outline and framework. Up until the second round of talks, the GRP RWC-SER had a half page listing of topics while the NDFP submitted a 16-page draft framework and outline.
Mr. Espejo notes, “The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just gestures of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity.”
Let me just inform the reader that those individuals in the NDFP delegation numbering about 60 vs. the GRP’s 50 were mainly consultants and resource persons for the NDFP RWC-SER who had been working the week before to finalize and fine tune what the NDFP would present at the 2nd round. They had also been working on overdrive to finish the NDFP 3rd draft Comprehensive Agreement on SER, giving it more flesh, updating, and fine tuning it from the 1998, 2001, and 2004 drafts all of which where made available to the GRP panel and to the public even as the talks had been embroiled in numerous impasses.
RESULT OF HARD WORK
Also for the record, the release of the 18 NDFP consultants was a result of hard work by the two sides, the NDFP invoking the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that the Duterte-appointed GRP Peace Panel accepted as valid and binding. The herculean efforts of the NDFP consultants’ lawyers, human rights advocates and an entire slew of supporters here and abroad who kept up the pressure for their release in the name of justice and the peace talks were key. The NDFP consultants were not, as Mr. Espejo simplistically puts it, “released on bail upon the insistence of the government.”
Mr. Espejo questions my writing an analysis of the ongoing GRP-NDFP peace talks since I am part of the NDFP delegation. Again let me be clear that the NDFP delegation includes resource persons such as myself and many consultants who are not necessarily organic to the NDFP.
As far as I know, the NDFP (and for that matter, the GRP) has not imposed a gag rule on any and all members of the NDFP delegation. It is up to the individual to exercise responsibility, fairness, objectivity and restraint as is warranted to keep the peace talks going on a productive track. The text of the bilateral statements and agreements are an objective basis for testing the veracity of any analyses or opinion pieces that anyone may choose to write.
I assume that Mr. Espejo, who is part of the GRP “communications group,” is not writing for himself alone but in behalf of his bosses. In fact he keeps making reference to “minutes” of the peace negotiations citing them as basis for his “contra en punto.” In this respect, Mr. Espejo appears to have quite an advantage in being able to cite purported official minutes. He again conveniently omits that he is citing GRP minutes and interpreting them to bolster his arguments that are presumably being made to “communicate” the GRP views and propaganda line.
Lastly, I call the attention of readers to two news reports that show even while the talks were ongoing (in fact, as early as Oct. 8) both the GRP and NDFP panels had issued statements to the media regarding the progress and lack of it with regard to CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms), amnesty, and cease-fire. It also appears that it was the GRP who first made public its criticism of or displeasure at the NDFP’s position vis-à-vis said agenda items.
Thus news reports, mostly citing GRP and NDFP panel members and consultants had already mentioned and described in detail what I later wrote about in my column. Mr. Espejo now vehemently protests, as though I am the first to divulge and comment on what transpired in the second round of talks.
Why did Mr. Espejo, and for that matter OPAPP, not protest these earlier statements and news reports? Could it be because it was the GRP who “drew first blood” so to speak, and that the NDFP was merely issuing rejoinders to clarify?
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
Nov. 7, 2016