Independent think-tank Ibon Foundation launched a campaign on peace talks awareness.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – As panels of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) sit for the fifth round of peace talks later today, independent think tank Ibon Foundation launched its campaign promoting the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), dubbed #CASERGoals.
Jose Enrique Africa, Ibon executive director said this round of talks is important as it will discuss reforms that would change the lives of Filipinos grappling poverty. In a forum on May 22, Ibon initiated the public awareness campaign to “advance the progressive, pro-people, and nationalist economics,” which the group sees as the “necessary foundation” for the agreement.
“CASERGoals is Ibon’s attempt to involve and educate the public on these key reforms as the Duterte administration and the NDFP hammer out Caser,” Africa said.
The speakers at the forum were: NDFP political consultant Alan Jazmines, who is vice chairperson of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms; Roberto Ador, Jr., chairperson of the GRP Reciprocal Working Committee, and Dr. Francisco Lara, chairperson of the GRP Ceasefire Committee.
GRP and NDFP agreed on free land distribution
In the fourth round of the talks in Rome, Italy, both parties have agreed on free land distribution “as a basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.”
On the side of the GRP, Lara said, if Caser is signed, lands will be transferred for free to farmer beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) who have certificate of land ownership awards (CLOAs) and emancipation patents (EPs). The government still has a commitment to compensate the landlords.
Lara also said the free distribution of lands is not only limited to the distribution of property rights but also ensuring that the farmers will occupy the land they till. He said they are targeting to distribute two million hectares of land to be occupied by one million farmer beneficiaries.
Lara said that they target to install some 1 million agrarian reform beneficiaries who have land titles but have been prevented from occupying their land. Government will also support farmers’ efforts to assume control in some 2 million hectares of farmlands.
Lara also raised “contentious issues” such as the confiscation of lands and non-compensation of the landlords.
“We feel that due process must be followed,” he said, adding that there should be a clear definition of “despotic landlords” or landlords who do not support certain organizations.
Lara said there is also the question of how the state – which has its own agrarian reform program – will jointly implement Caser with the “independent political authority,” which has its own efforts for agrarian reform.
Meanwhile, the NDFP’s proposed draft of Caser focuses on changing policies affecting majority of the Filipino people. Jazmines said neoliberal policies being implemented by the GRP has only worsened the condition of the people and the economy, from low wage work outsourced by other countries to proliferation of imported products competing against local products.
“The country has become the number one source of minerals in the world, but highly industrialized countries are the ones processing these minerals and exporting their finished products to our country,” he said.
Jazmines added that the transformation of agricultural lands into commercial plantations stunted the local economy and kept the people poorer.
He said what the NDFP seeks to attain whether in legal venues or in peace negotiations are resolutions to longstanding strategic problems of the Filipino people.
“In relation to this, among many basic socio-economic and political, social, cultural reforms that the NDFP, its allied forces and the people, are aspiring and fighting for, are genuine agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization, national sovereignty and development, environmental protection, safeguarding the rights of the working people and indigenous national minorities, advancing the political rights of the people promoting patriotic, progressive and pro-people culture,” said Jazmines.
Willingness to attain peace
Both panels expressed willingness to attain peace and continue the talks amid issues that need to be addressed by both parties.
For the GRP, Ador said, it sees the need for reform, “otherwise the problems raised by the NDFP and other sectors will not be resolved.”
For the NDFP, Jazmines said, they hope that the openness of the Duterte administration would continue.
Africa said the peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP is a unique process where opposing panels are sitting down and have agreed to solve the root causes of the armed conflict.
He said the ongoing peace talks “gives an opportune time to engage policymakers and the public on these urgent and long-term social and economic reforms that will finally address the underdevelopment, poverty and injustice that feed the armed conflict.”
Africa pointed out that beyond the peace talks, the campaign for reforms carried out through people’s struggles should include “constant engagement with government to influence policy making and decisions.”