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Fidel Agcaoili

The “Whole-of-Nation Approach” Chimera

in Editorial

In mid-November last year, President Duterte expressed openness to meet with two leading NDFP negotiating panel members about resuming the formal peace talks that, for the nth time, he had arbitrarily cancelled in July. But his military/security advisers gruffly scuttled that meeting, impelling the NDFP peacemakers—Fidel Agcaoili and Luis Jalandoni—to cancel their trip. Reason: the security advisers threatened to arrest them should they come to Manila.

That incident demonstrated how easily the internal-security cabal in the Duterte cabinet could interdict and frustrate their president and commander-in-chief whenever he gets sober-minded as to consider returning to the negotiating table with the NDFP under The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. They induced him to endorse their previously repudiated “localized” peace talks, which, not at all surprising, have been totally ignored by all local commands of the revolutionary movement.

On December 4, the internal-security cabal succeeded in inducing Duterte to put his imprimatur on their magnum opus, which spokespersons twice mentioned the AFP would recommend while drumbeating the ludicrous “Red October” Duterte-ouster canard: Executive Order No. 70.

Published in the Official Gazette on December 10 (its date of effectivity), EO 70 is pompously titled, “Institutionalizing the whole-of-nation approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to end local communist armed conflict, and directing the adoption of a National Peace Framework.”

EO 70 claims that the whole-of-nation approach (WONA) “addresses the root causes of insurgencies, internal disturbances and tensions, and other armed conflicts and threats.” How? “(B)y prioritizing and harmonizing the delivery of basic social services and social development packages by the government, facilitating societal inclusivity, and ensuring active participation of all sectors of the society in the pursuit of the country’s peace agenda.”

To serve as an “efficient mechanism and structure” for implementing the WONA, the National Task Force (NTF) was created, headed by President Duterte as chair, with his national security adviser (Hermogenes Esperon Jr.) as vice-chair. NTF members are ranking officials of the following departments: Internal and Local Government, Justice, National Defense, Public Works, Budget, Finance, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, Education, Economic Development, Intelligence, TESDA, Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process; plus the presidential assistant for indigenous peoples concerns, NCIP chair, AFP chief, PNP chief, PCOO secretary and two private sector representatives.

Within six months from the EO issuance, the NTF is mandated to formulate a WONA-driven National Peace Framework (NPF) and start to implement it, “in coordination with relevant national government agencies, LGUs, civil society, and other stakeholders.” It must ensure “inter-agency convergence” in implementing the NPF in “conflict-affected and vulnerable communities.”

It calls for enlisting the aid of any department, bureau, office, agency, or instrumentality of government, including LGUs, government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), and state universities and colleges (SUCs), in accordance with their respective mandates.

In short, it calls for a whole-of-government orchestration.

To fulfill its mandate, the NTF shall organize “adhoc inter-agency and multisectoral clusters, councils, committees, and groups in the national, regional and local levels whenever necessary.” It shall also develop and foster “strategic communication, advocacy, and peace-constituency plans in case of a ceasefire” plus capacity-building measures “to enable local chief executives [governors and mayors] and local peace bodies to engage and facilitate local peace engagements or negotiations/interventions.”

Specifically, EO 70 mandates the NTF to recommend to the OPAPP “projects and conflict-affected areas” where the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana) program—a multi-billion counterinsurgency project, initiated under the preceding Aquino III administration, which has engendered corruption in the OPAPP—may be implemented.

A National Secretariat was to be set up to provide technical and administrative support to the NTF and ensure all policies, directives, plans and programs formulated by the NTF are faithfully carried out.

The National Peace Framework shall contain “principles, policies, plans, and programs (4Ps)” that will bring “inclusive and sustainable peace, and address the root causes of insurgencies, internal disturbances and tensions as well as other armed conflicts and threats in identified areas.” It shall be consistent with constitutional integrity [in accord with the Constitution] and national sovereignty,” the EO stresses, and “responsive to local needs and sensitive to realities on the ground.”

Further, it shall include a “mechanism for localized peace engagements or negotiations and interventions that is nationally orchestrated, directed and supervised, while being locally implemented.”

The NTF-NPF concept is essentially derived from the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide, which was applied in the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq but failed. The AFP initially adopted it in the Aquino III regime’s Oplan Bayanihan (which the Duterte regime cursorily pursues through its Oplan Kapayapaan). Its “whole-of-nation approach” sought to bring together all public and private sectors to crush the revolutionary movement, first in 2013 then in 2016—and utterly failed.

Under the current regime, the AFP first set an over-ambitious, impossible timeline: to “end the insurgency” by mid-2019, which Duterte himself publicly announced. The fascist machinery—with almost 70 retired AFP and PNP generals/officers holding top positions in the government—is now set to push the AFP’s magnum opus, aimed to end the insurgency by 2022.

This appears to be a dream-come-true for the militarists/fascists. They can lord over the various inter-agency clusters and other formations lined up in EO 70. Indeed, they can weaponize all government functions and services, including judicial and political processes, to attack the revolutionary movement and all those they perceive as threats and “enemies of the state.”

And while doing that, the AFP wants the public to believe that the entire nation is up against “communist insurgency” and that the AFP—with its egregious record of human rights violations through a succession of governments, including the incumbent—enjoys the whole-hearted support of the people.

But what EO 70 truly shows is that—with President Duterte ever comformable with and protective of them—the state security forces can obligate all civilian agencies of the state, all local government units, non-government organizations and all other stakeholders such as business, church, schools and various professions to take part in this grand plot.

All told, the AFP has not learned its lessons throughout the years. Timelines for “ending the insurgency” have come and gone but the revolutionary resistance of the people has remained, outlasting each and every reactionary regime. The Duterte regime is no exception.

THE DESPERATION OF ESPERON

in Countercurrent

Fidel Agcaoili
Chairperson, NDFP Monitoring Committee

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., is once again lying through his teeth as he desperately tries to evade accountability for more than a thousand cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Gloria Arroyo regime.

He is doubly desperate to evade culpability, as he now also finds himself in danger of sinking along with his current master Rodrigo Duterte’s wobbly ship.

As Philippine Army deputy chief of staff for operations, Special Operations Command chief, Philippine Army commanding general and later AFP chief of staff–positions he occupied from 2003 to 2008–Esperon, in tandem with Norberto Gonzales, cannot deny responsibility for serving as the main architect of the Arroyo regime’s brutal fascist attacks during this period against activists, mass leaders and suspected revolutionaries, including priests, trade unionists and poor peasants, journalists, and academicians.

Among the most notorious cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the Esperon-led military under Gloria Arroyo’s helm were the enforced disappearances of activist Jonas Burgos, UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan and 10 NDFP consultants and staff (for which cases have been filed with the UN Human Rights Committee). From 2001 to the end of Gloria Arroyo’s term in 2010, there were more than 1,300 cases of political killings and enforced disappearances, including the assassination of NDFP consultant Sotero Llamas.

In 2006, Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston saw through Esperon’s lies as the latter attempted to blame the killings on the Left. Alston dismissed the so-called documentary proof presented by Esperon, saying they bore “all the hallmarks of a fabrication and cannot be taken as evidence of anything other than disinformation”.

Now that this bloody record is being raised anew by a public outraged at the rise in power of his former commander in chief Arroyo, Esperon is attempting to deflect the unwanted attention by again blaming the Left.

He misleads the public by mixing up two incidents that occurred almost 20 years apart–the alleged mass killings in Inopacan, Leyte in the 1980s (where the “evidence” consists of the incredible testimonies of military assets and an assortment of skeletal remains dug up from public cemeteries) and the widespread state-sponsored extrajudicial killings from 2003 to 2007 that Alston was investigating, and for which Esperon was as culpable as his boss Arroyo.
Esperon is so desperate that he could only recycle the same ill-conceived lies of long ago that, unfortunately for him, no intelligent mind would buy.

Sooner than later, he will be held to account both for his damning history as Arroyo’s henchman, as well as for crafting the Duterte regime’s national security strategy that has mandated, among others, the scuttling of the peace negotiations in favor of all-out war, the vilification of the people’s liberation movement as terrorist, the killing of hundreds of unarmed activists in the countryside, the manufacture of bogus criminal cases against revolutionaries and leaders of the progressive mass movement and the enactment of increasingly repressive laws to stifle dissent.###

Peace (Talking) Heads [Part 3 of 3]

in Mainstream
by the Liberation Staff

 

An Interview with Satur Ocampo, Luis Jalandoni, and Fidel Agcaoili

Through the decades of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) engagement with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) across the negotiating table, its peace panel has been successively headed by three of the movement’s comrades of unquestionable integrity and reliability—Satur Ocampo, who headed the first negotiating panel in 1986; Luis “Louie” Jalandoni who was chief negotiator from 1994 up to 2016; and, its current chief, Fidel Agcaoili who took over in 2016 when Jalandoni  resigned. The three comrades, along with the other members of the peace panel, have become the personification of the NDFP through the highs and lows of the peace negotiations.

The peace negotiating panel serves as the channel and articulator of the positions defined by the leadership of the revolutionary movement. The panel members, especially the chief negotiator, are the face and the voice of the movement.

Liberation sought the three comrades to get their views on the regimes they have dealt with either as panel heads, panel member or as an “observer”.

Ka Louie Jalandoni and Ka Fidel Agcaoili were interviewed two weeks before the scheduled fifth round of talks, which the GRP cancelled in May 2017. Ka Satur Ocampo was interviewed in June,  a week after the fifth round of talks was cancelled. The interview dates should be noted as they provide the context of their responses.

Since the interview, several events have already transpired. These events include the cancellation of the back-channel talks scheduled in July before Duterte’s second  State of the Nation Address (SONA), the consequent threat to terminate the peace talks and the withdrawal  of bail granted to former political prisoners who are participating in the talks as consultants, the extension of martial law in Mindanao, and the threat to bomb Lumad schools, among others. (Louie Jalandoni added his comments on these events in his interview.)

During their separate interviews, the three recalled what each thought was a historic moment in the talks, their frustrations and hopes, lessons and insights in dealing with the various GRP regimes, which also reflected the shifts in the peace negotiations.

From the point of view of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the peace negotiations with the reactionary government are deemed as part of the total conduct of the revolutionary struggle – which essentially is “a struggle for just and lasting peace because it strives to solve the fundamental problems of the people”.  Which is why, since 1986, the mutually agreed starting point of the GRP-NDFP peace talks has been to “address the root causes of the armed conflict”.

Satur Ocampo, 
first NDFP Peace Panel
Chairperson, 1986

 

FIDEL AGCOILI

Liberation: What are your thoughts as the new Chair of the NDFP peace panel?

Fidel Agcaoili (FA): Ay,  naku!  (Laughs). Additional work. Oo, talaga. I never expected this. In fact, when the idea was broached to me, I said no. I am actually more comfortable doing side negotiations or talks, what has come to be known as the cigarette breaks.

Now, I face them (the GRP panel) across the table as chief negotiator but still do the shuttling between the GRP and the NDFP panels to thresh things out.  But, it’s good that other panel members and consultants are there to help guide me.  Also, as panel chair, I am able to mobilize the peace panel staff fully, and they are all performing well. It’s good, di ba, to see your second generation doing their tasks well.

 

L: How are you after several months of being the Chair?

FA: Ay, talaga, pagod (Tired). Sometimes, I wonder where I get my energy. Siguro, adrenalin. The thought that the work should be done, that work should not stop until it’s done.

 

L: How did you feel when Ka Louie (Jalandoni) brought up the idea of resigning as chief negotiator?

FA: Oo. Yun na talaga. It was the third time he brought up his resignation as panel chair. After three tries (laughs) we needed to finally decide on Ka Louie’s request. Ka Louie was firm. And there was no way that he would want another extension. He is  already 81, although he is still very sharp.  The question  is ‘why me?’ Bakit ako? But I guess it’s because I am the most senior among the remaining panel members.

 

L: Going back to the moment when it was finally decided that you would replace Ka Louie as chair…?

FA: Overwhelmed, overwhelmed talaga. I know it was going to be a lot of work. I was also concerned with  how I could balance the role of talking with the GRP panel as chief negotiator and at the same time serve as the bridge between two panels outside of the formal negotiations to reach mutually satisfactory points of agreements. Eventually, with practice, I’ll achieve that balance. But as of now, it’s difficult.

 

L: How long have you been a panel member?

FA: Officially?  I started in 1994. Louie was with the panel right from the start. Although in 1992, I was present in the deliberations on The Hague Joint Declaration, but I had no direct participation. I joined in 1994, when the talks resumed after two years of hibernation.  After the signing of The Hague  Joint Declaration, Pres. Ramos pushed for the NUC  (National Unification Commission) headed by the late Atty. Haydee Yorac.  But when the NUC had made no progress, Ramos decided to resume the peace talks. That was the time I joined the panel. The discussions then were first on the Breukelen Joint Statement, then on the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees).  

 

L: Did you foresee that you would eventually be the revolutionary movement’s chief negotiator?

FA: No. But I was the NDFP emissary in initiating the 1986 talks.  I was designated to talk with then Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo on how to start the peace negotiations and how to compose both panels. I went to Malacañang twice. I also talked with Ka Pepe (Diokno) who was the first GRP panel negotiator.

 

L: How would you characterize each regime you dealt with in the peace negotiation?

FA: In the case of the Cory Aquino regime, when she initiated the peace talks she was not in full control of the government.  Her heart might have been in the right place in wanting to engage in peace talks with the movement, but the military and her economic advisers were against it.  So, she demanded a ceasefire before negotiations and agreements on substantive issues.  And the movement acceded despite the arrest of Rodolfo Salas and the killing of Ka Lando Olalia and Ka Leonor Alay-ay.  A ceasefire was put in place even before any substantive agreement could be forged.

With Fidel Ramos, ah, that was surprising.  He was, together with the military, the spoiler during the time of Aquino.  Yet, in less than four months after taking power, he sent an emissary (a team actually) to The Netherlands to negotiate and sign the framework agreement for the peace negotiations which came to be known as The Hague Joint Declaration.  Two years later, he formed his counterpart negotiating panel that worked out the other agreements on safety and immunity (JASIG), on ground rules for the formal talks, and on the sequence and operationalization of the reciprocal working committees.  We even finished the negotiations and signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first item in the substantive agenda.

With Estrada, ah, the peace talks were short lived.  He terminated the negotiations and declared all-out war against the revolutionary movement.  But this came after he had approved the CARHRIHL, as the principal of the GRP panel, together with Mariano Orosa, the principal of the NDFP panel.

Despite recognizing the role of the Left in putting her in power, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo eventually became a hostage of the military, which carried out the brutal and bloody Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 that resulted in hundreds of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, forcible displacements of communities, arrests, torture and detention of activists and suspected NPA supporters and sympathizers.

But to Arroyo’s credit, she gave life to the CARHRIHL by approving the establishment of the offices of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) to monitor the implementation of the Agreement.  Together with human rights and lawyers groups, the NDFP section in the JMC was instrumental in opposing and exposing the campaign of extrajudicial killings and disappearances by the Arroyo regime.

Under Noynoy Aquino, there was nothing, no movement at all in the peace talks.  Cacique kasi, walang alam kundi ang mag-video game at pangalagaan ang class interests ng kanyang pamilya (he knows nothing except playing video games and protecting his family’s class interests).  Also, the social democrats were most influential on him, ideologically.  His regime tried to undermine the major agreements signed during the Ramos regime:  considering The Hague Joint Declaration as a document of perpetual division; the JASIG as a one-sided agreement and therefore inoperative; and the CARHRIHL as an NDFP document which has been superseded by the GRP’s laws.  But it backpedalled  on the CARHRIHL because the AFP had received funding from the European Union for trainings on the implementation of the CARHRIHL.

Now, with Digong (Duterte), there have been advances in the socio-economic reforms like the free distribution of land to the farmers.  He promised to stand by it, panindigan ko yan, he said.

 

Speech from 3rd round of peace talks, January 2017

L: Which regime was the most difficult to deal with?

FA: Eh syempre, the most difficult to deal with was the Noynoy Aquino regime. At times, I wanted to tell them “putris kayo”,  hahaha.  Yes, I used the term balasubas (double-faced, cheat).  Talagang ganun eh, balasubas.  The Aquino regime wanted to negate the Hague Declaration, the JASIG.  As concrete example, they committed to release political prisoners, in the presence of the Norwegian ambassador.  Atty. Alex Padilla (then head of GRP peace panel) said they would release Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jazmines, and three more to get us back to the negotiating table. But, nothing happened. The political prisoners were not released. Eh, balasubas talaga, di ba?

 

L: Which regime is the most challenging?

FA: Challenging? This government (Duterte).  Because we don’t know where Duterte is heading.  It is mixed up and confused.  But we need to push while always being prepared and vigilant.  We need to push for maximum reforms and see how far we can go.  Let’s see. That’s why it’s challenging. We need to get the necessary reforms for the benefit of the people, for the country to develop and advance.  But we are also aware that he has his own interests, his class interests.  Hence, the need for vigilance and preparedness.

 

L: The issue of ceasefire has always been an obstacle in the peace talks and you have consistently refused going into it before any social and economic reforms for the people are secured. Why did you entertain it this time?  

FA: We went into a ceasefire as a sign of goodwill. But it was unilateral,  that’s why it lasted up to six months. In a unilateral ceasefire, both sides have separate premises and you can decide anytime to terminate your declaration, especially when the people are on the receiving end of repression.

But a joint ceasefire is difficult because it binds you unnecessarily. Although we are not closed to considering this. The ceasefire the government wants could be the truce after the CASER and CAPCR were signed.

Until the fourth round of formal negotiations, we exercised flexibility, especially on the issue of ceasefire. But we cannot allow that to go on. I have told my counterpart in the GRP, Sec. Bebot Bello that they won’t get a joint ceasefire until the discussions on the social and economic reforms move forward. The GRP has been dribbling the discussions on the socio-economic reforms. One moment they would agree to a discussion on the ARRD (agrarian reform and rural development) then in an instant they would renege; the same with the discussions on NIED (national industrialization and economic development). They kept delaying the discussions on these two important parts of the social and economic reforms at the same time insisting on a ceasefire. I frankly told Bebot that we want agreements on reforms first.

 

L: Did Louie give you advice when you assumed the chairmanship?  

FA: Ah, he said “try to moderate…” you know, there are times when I flare up even across the table. Eh, I am not really a diplomat.  I am more, like I shoot from the hip, without thinking. Well, not really without thinking because there’s a wealth of knowledge gained from the many years in the movement, you know the principles, the policies and what’s happening on the ground.  So you know when one is saying or doing something wrong. But I know, I just can’t shoot from the hip. Louie’s advice was helpful. I need to be a little more circumspect, which I am not. I thanked Louie. Of course, I am the chief negotiator now.

 

L: What qualities of Louie would you want to carry on as chief negotiator?

FA: Patience, patience, and his eloquence, di ba? I would really want to acquire those qualities. (Laughs).

 

L: Where do you think the peace talk is heading? What are your personal wishes?

FA: My wish is that we could sign an agreement within the year. We’ve already agreed on the framework of free distribution of land to the landless farmers. The GRP will have to give that through their own mechanisms, like legislation. Any such agreement is welcome. Then we can push this and fight for this on the streets, in the countryside and show it can be done.

That should also be the case on national industrialization so we can turn our mineral resources into finished products and then transform our economy. That’s what we are after. Let’s see.

But whatever happens, the NDFP should be ready with its own version of the CASER which we can circulate—our program in banking and finance, all the reforms we are proposing so the country can get out of the neoliberal paradigm.

“We want reforms for the people.”

Keep Reading

Peace (Talking) Heads [Part 2 of 3]

in Mainstream
by the Liberation Staff

 

An Interview with Satur Ocampo, Luis Jalandoni, and Fidel Agcaoili

Through the decades of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) engagement with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) across the negotiating table, its peace panel has been successively headed by three of the movement’s comrades of unquestionable integrity and reliability—Satur Ocampo, who headed the first negotiating panel in 1986; Luis “Louie” Jalandoni who was chief negotiator from 1994 up to 2016; and, its current chief, Fidel Agcaoili who took over in 2016 when Jalandoni  resigned. The three comrades, along with the other members of the peace panel, have become the personification of the NDFP through the highs and lows of the peace negotiations.

The peace negotiating panel serves as the channel and articulator of the positions defined by the leadership of the revolutionary movement. The panel members, especially the chief negotiator, are the face and the voice of the movement.

Liberation sought the three comrades to get their views on the regimes they have dealt with either as panel heads, panel member or as an “observer”.

Ka Louie Jalandoni and Ka Fidel Agcaoili were interviewed two weeks before the scheduled fifth round of talks, which the GRP cancelled in May 2017. Ka Satur Ocampo was interviewed in June,  a week after the fifth round of talks was cancelled. The interview dates should be noted as they provide the context of their responses.

Since the interview, several events have already transpired. These events include the cancellation of the back-channel talks scheduled in July before Duterte’s second  State of the Nation Address (SONA), the consequent threat to terminate the peace talks and the withdrawal  of bail granted to former political prisoners who are participating in the talks as consultants, the extension of martial law in Mindanao, and the threat to bomb Lumad schools, among others. (Louie Jalandoni added his comments on these events in his interview.)

During their separate interviews, the three recalled what each thought was a historic moment in the talks, their frustrations and hopes, lessons and insights in dealing with the various GRP regimes, which also reflected the shifts in the peace negotiations.

From the point of view of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the peace negotiations with the reactionary government are deemed as part of the total conduct of the revolutionary struggle – which essentially is “a struggle for just and lasting peace because it strives to solve the fundamental problems of the people”.  Which is why, since 1986, the mutually agreed starting point of the GRP-NDFP peace talks has been to “address the root causes of the armed conflict”.

Satur Ocampo, 
first NDFP Peace Panel
Chairperson, 1986

LOUIE JALANDONI

Liberation: How are you after the NDFP peace panel accepted your resignation as chairperson?

Luis Jalandon (LJ): I’m okay, (laughs). I am more relaxed because comrade Fidel Agcaoili, the new chairperson of the negotiating panel, now takes care of the many details involved in the peace talks. But I am still very active. I am invited in a number of forums and interviews by the media if they want to know the latest developments in the peace talks. We are now preparing for the fifth round of talks so I have to attend a number of preparatory meetings.

I am still very active, but with less responsibilities (laughs). Ka Fidel  is doing a very good job, he is very well qualified.

 

L: What exactly is the role of the peace panel chair?

LJ: The chairperson of the panel plays a significant role as he directly negotiates with the chair and the whole panel of the GRP. He also provides guidance for the whole delegation of the NDFP, which is now more than 50 persons. The delegation is composed of the panel members and staff, the lawyers, the panel consultants and the other working committees.

The working group of the NDFP CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms) has the biggest delegation, around 25-30 people because this agreement will constitute the meat of the peace talks. The issues tackled in the CASER are what we call the roots of the armed conflict.

The panel chair is also involved in media work. It is his task to talk to the members of the media before, during, and after every round of the talks. The consultants assist the chairperson, like Ka Joma (Jose Maria Sison), who is deeply involved in the talks as chief political consultant. But the whole delegation and the team are the responsibility of the panel chairperson.

 

L: What does a “senior adviser” do?

LJ: As senior adviser, I participate in the preparation of the talks. I help in the preparation of the statements issued by the negotiating panel and take part in the discussions of the GRP-NDFP joint statements. I also talk to the media. Or, the panel includes me in the discussions and deliberations on proposals from the GRP, like for example the Trust Fund for Development similar to the Bangsa Moro Development Agency. So, the NDFP still avails of my more than 20 years of experience as chair of the negotiating panel.

 

L: How long was your stint as NDFP panel chair?

LJ: I was appointed chairperson of the NDFP panel when it was constituted in 1994. So, from 1994 to October 2016, that makes it 22 years. But if you include our involvement, Ka Joma and I, also with Mang Apeng Yap (deceased Rep. Jose Yap of Tarlac), when we were still exploring the possibilities of a peace talks in 1989 to 1992 during the time of Corazon Aquino, that would be 27 years.

During those years, I was involved in the crafting of The Hague Joint Declaration (THJD), and was a signatory too, with Mang Apeng. But, of course, Ka Joma and the late Atty. Romy Capulong and many others helped in drafting the framework agreement (THJD). The agreement spells out the four substantive agenda of the peace process to address the roots of the armed conflict.

 

L: You have negotiated with five to six regimes, from Presidents Ramos to Aquino. How would you differentiate negotiating with each?   

LJ: There were 10 agreements signed under the regime of Fidel Ramos. The GRP and NDFP panels also signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first of the four substantive agreements. Although Ramos was not able to sign or approve it.

It was President Joseph Estrada who signed the CARHRIHL. But it was also he, who scuttled the peace talks on May 31, 1999 after the NDFP condemned the approval of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Peace consultant Vic Ladlad was arrested and detained almost a month later on June 21, which was in violation of the JASIG.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) for her part took a positive step when she resumed the peace talks and reinstated all the agreements cancelled by the previous regime. She also agreed with the participation of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) as third party facilitator.  In 2001, the peace talks resumed in Norway. In 2004, two Oslo Joint Statements were signed by the GRP and NDFP.  So, give credit to GMA for these. But we also saw the worst human rights situation under GMA—more than 1,200 victims of extrajudicial killings and more than 200 victims of enforced disappearances and other cases of human rights violations.  This was the time when Gen. Jovito Palparan was running wild with violations, but he was praised and promoted by Pres. Arroyo.

Ay, nothing happened during the time of Noynoy Aquino! We met in 2011 but President Aquino, Alex Padilla (then head of the GRP panel) and Teresita Deles (presidential peace adviser) attacked the framework agreement—The Hague Joint Declaration—as a “document of perpetual division”, also essentially attacking the agreement on the substantive agenda and the principle of reciprocity and non-capitulation, no surrender. They attacked the JASIG and declared it “inoperative”. They also called the CARHRIHL as an NDFP propaganda document. So, nothing really happened during the time, except for the GRP attacks on the previously signed and reaffirmed documents.

And then came the Duterte administration. Pres. Duterte at the start pushed for the peace talks; he was willing to release the NDFP jailed consultants who had been highly wanted by the military—the likes of Benito Tiamzon, Wilma Tiamzon, Tirso Alcantara, Alan Jazmines. All of them were released. There were 19 of them released so they could participate in the talks. But there are still others who are still in jail like Ed Sarmiento, Leopoldo  Caloza, all NDFP consultants who were convicted to life imprisonment.  Up to now they are still in jail. A third one, Emeterio Antalan was recently released.

A week after his election, on May 16, 2016, Pres. Duterte even told Fidel Agcaoili that  the best way to release the more than 400 political prisoners  is through a general amnesty. Now,  that’s taken as very important. The release of the more than 400 political prisoners also means respecting and implementing the CARHRIHL that says all political prisoners—who had been charged, arrested or convicted of common crimes like murder, arson, robbery in contravention of the political offense doctrine—should be released.

So, that’s basic, because the first substantive agreement between the GRP and the NDFP, the CARHRIHL states that political prisoners charged with trumped up criminal charges should be immediately released. That’s one important issue that the NDFP should strongly demand from the GRP. It is very important for the NDFP to put this on the front part of the agenda of the talks.

Anyway, there is a potential for achieving a just peace within the time of the President Duterte. But we also see that there are problems and obstacles that we have to overcome—the mass movement, armed struggle, people’s war and the whole of the revolutionary movement. We need to be guided and stand firm on the demands of the people in the course of the peace talks.

Since July 19, 2017 there has been a very rapid deterioration in Duterte’s stand on the peace talks with the NDFP. He abruptly cancelled the scheduled back-channel talks, declared once more that he no longer wants to talk with the NDFP. He has repeatedly attacked the revolutionary movement. He has also been personally attacking Prof. Jose Maria Sison. The NDFP National Executive Committee has exposed in August 2017 an assassination plot against Prof. Jose Maria Sison.  On the ground, numerous human rights violations are committed by the AFP, PNP and paramilitary groups.

However, Secretary Silvestre Bello, GRP Panel Chair, says that President Duterte has not issued a written notice of termination of the JASIG and therefore the peace negotiations are not terminated and the JASIG remains valid and effective. This is a remaining possible opening for the resumption of peace talks.

 

L: Which of the regimes you negotiated with is your personal “favorite”?

LJ: (Laughs). Well, during the time of President Ramos, he had committed many negative things against the people. But as far as the peace talks went, we were able to sign 10 agreements. So, in terms of peace negotiations, there was undeniably an advance under his term. Even the panel members he appointed moved the talks forward. In a sense, we were able to show that signed agreements are possible between the GRP and the NDFP.

Pero ngayon, siguro the most exciting would be negotiating with the Duterte regime because there are direct connections and negotiations.  Very interesting, ‘no? There are exciting potentials, but at the same time, there are dangers and problems and negative points that have come up like what I stated above.

We can’t allow the human rights violations to continue.  The CPP had earlier said that more than 500 barangay throughout the country are under attack by the military in violation of its own ceasefire.  We have submitted a list of these violations to the GRP peace panel in April but no concrete action has been undertaken.

As a matter of fact,  after President Duterte emotionally reacted and cancelled the talks, Defense Secretary Lorenzana seized  the moment to declare an all-out war against the revolutionary movement. He even insulted, called us criminals and thugs. President Duterte did not stop the all-out war, it still continues—the bombardment, killing of leaders.

The GRP has put aside the most essential issues and the respect and implementation of the CARHRIHL. The government is only interested in the bilateral ceasefire.  But how can we have a ceasefire if they keep putting aside the most essential part of the talks, the implementation and respect of CARHRIHL?  The masses are demanding to stop these violations, otherwise the talks can not continue. We should bring back the focus of the talks on the implementation of CARHRIHL.

It is important to bring out the reports on the experiences of the masses, not only in Mindanao but all over the country, and to give proper attention and concrete actions on these violations. ‘Yan, I think that’s the most important now.

 

” I don’t think I will survive te work without the collective. There is my immediate collective and the bigger colective , which is the grassroots. They were my source of strength.”

L: Which regime was the most difficult to deal with?

LJ: I had the most negative experience with the Noynoy Aquino regime. At the start, it seemed positive. In 2011, we had a ceasefire during the talks itself, ‘no? But during that round, the Aquino regime attacked the whole framework of the peace negotiations. So, from the very start, on the first day, they already said “we reaffirm the previous agreements with reservation”.  Then they said that The Hague Joint Declaration is a “document of perpetual division”. So we had to go and counter this effectively because they were attacking the framework agreement. That took a lot of time during the peace talks. The GRP kept insisting to put this on record. So, we also had to put on record our counter to that.

Second, they later attacked the JASIG and declared it inoperative. It was Alex Padilla (then GRP panel head) who declared it, taking away the basic protection, including protection from arrest, of all those participating in the peace talks.

Then they called the landmark agreement, the first substantive agenda that was signed in 1998, the CARHRIHL as simply a propaganda document of the NDFP, like it was not a valid and effective agreement between the GRP and the NDFP.

On the ground, the Noynoy Aquino regime also dispensed with the rights of the farmers, like those in Hacienda Luisita, as though the massacre did not happen. It also violated its own ceasefire and claimed that the military operation was for “peace and development”.

We demanded that there should be an expressed prohibition of civil-military operations, but Alex Padilla gave explicit permission to continue the civil and military operations on the ground.

Our comrades in the field said “alkansi kami dyan” (we are at the losing end) because these so-called civil-military operations are actually offensives.

 

L: What are your insights in negotiating with the GRP?

LJ: At the time of Ramos, in 1996, we already had a draft agreement on CARHRIHL.  The committee had three members from the GRP and three from the NDFP.  When the GRP submitted the draft to their principal, it did not come back till a few months after. And when we saw the draft, it was cannibalized—almost 80 to 85 percent of the original draft agreement was gone. Drafting CARHRIHL’s preamble already took us a week. I said, “kung ganito ang ginagawa nila, pwede nang ibasura itong talks. Oo.” (laughs).   (if they continue doing this, then we can just dump the talks.)

But, Ka Joma and Atty. Romy Capulong were a big help in crafting an acceptable agreement to both panels, reformulating content, but with the same substance that both sides could agree on. That was an achievement. There I realized that both sides could agree despite the difference in standpoint and viewpoint.

And so we can say that with persistence, perseverance and using all our capabilities, we did it. Also, to a certain extent, our counterparts, Mang Apeng Yap, Bebot Bello, and Rene Sarmiento were also open and willing to concur.  So the draft was done and later signed into a formal agreement.

Ako, on my own, “nasabi ko napaka-walanghiya naman nitong nasa GRP side dahil meron nang agreement na-cannibalize pa.”

They did the same thing with the drafting of JASIG. We talked about it lengthily. We formed a committee composed of three members from each side. The committee discussed the draft from evening to dawn. Then when they returned, they said they already had an agreement.  We were all so happy. One of us said, “It’s too good to be true, usually it is not true.”

The draft was going to be presented in the morning, but Amb. Howard Dee, the former GRP panel head, postponed it twice. When we finally met late in the afternoon, Dee stood up and declared the talks collapsed. (laughs) We can’t do anything. E, di babay na.  This was October 1994. The following day, early in the morning, Mang Apeng (Yap) called for a breakfast meeting with Bebot Bello. They said they didn’t know that Amb. Howard Dee would collapse the talks (laughs). Later, we learned that Pres. Ramos reprimanded Amb. Dee for what he did, saying Dee had no authority to collapse the talks. After that, the drafting of JASIG proceeded and for more than a month, we produced 24 drafts and counter-drafts. By February 1995, JASIG was approved.

Well, there were many instances that we could overcome obstacles as long as we persisted.

 

L: What personal lessons did you pass on to the new peace panel chairperson?

LJ: We often have meetings. So, that’s one venue for us to talk about things and I make suggestions. Fidel (Agcaoili) is good, he is good at delegating tasks, which is necessary at this time because compared to the previous talks, this one is more complicated. The delegation of both panels is bigger than the previous talks. So there are so many committee meetings.

It is always a challenge for the chair to organize his time, to give sufficient time for collective discussions  when important things come up and to listen to many views and opinions. I think Ka Fidel has the capability, he has been with the peace talks for a long time and he has a sharp mind.

 

L: During the announcement of your retirement as Chair of the NDFP peace panel, there were jokes, especially from the GRP panel, comparing you and Fidel—you  as “diplomatic” and Fidel as  “hardline”. What do you say to this?  

LJ: As a matter of fact, Fidel has very good rapport with GRP panel members— with Bebot Bello, with Nani Braganza, with Jess Dureza. He is actually more effective in dealing with people because he easily establishes rapport. He has remained cool and calm during all these negotiations. Pero, of course, it’s very hard for the chair to give time to everyone. He has to deal with the time pressure during the peace negotiations on top of everything and everyone needing his attention.

[Ka Fidel as “hardline”] It’s just a perception, which probably was a result of his heated exchange with then GRP panel chair Alex Padilla during the time of Noynoy Aquino.

 

L: How would you describe your 22 years as panel chair?

LJ: Sa tingin ko naman, I enjoyed the challenge.

Considering all, I felt assured and confident with the support of the other kasamas (comrades)—Ka Joma was there, Atty. Romy Capulong, Fidel, the other members of the panel.  Plus of course, ahh, when you meet Ka Satur (Ocampo) you always feel his support borne out of his experience.

At the same time, I would say that the most essential part for me was my integration with the masses, say  in Paquibato. My visits in some guerrilla fronts  and in the picketlines of workers were valuable to me. The visits keep me grounded on the people’s demands and to always have in mind their welfare and their best interest. My integration with them and seeing that the revolution continues to advance give me the strength and confidence in my work as a negotiator.

So, collective work. I don’t think I will survive the work without the collective. There is my immediate collective and the bigger collective, which is the grassroots. They were my source of strength. Together, we were able to overcome hurdles. The comrades were there, easy to consult, easy to contact. So, 22 years… ewan ko, parang ganun ang nakikita ko (that’s how I see it).

 

L: What did you enjoy most in those 22 years?

LJ: Ay, yung sa peace negotiations?  Probably when The Hague Joint Declaration and the CARHRIHL were signed, when JASIG was signed.

During those 22 years I also had the chance to visit the countryside, which provided me inspiration, strength, ‘no?  When you’re with the masses you feel the dynamism of the revolutionary struggle, of the revolutionary movement and it gives you confidence, especially when you’re in the guerrilla fronts. I also enjoyed attending forum of various sectors or joining mass actions.

When Ka Coni (Ledesma) and I attended the 48th anniversary of the CPP and the Peace Summit last December 26 in Davao, certain thoughts occurred to me amidst the masses. There were around 15,000 of them.  And being with the NPA members, the members of the Pulang Bagani Battalion, it became very clear that we need to continue to fight for the rights of the workers and peasants, to assert the essential role of the NPA in building organs of political power,  and that the NPA should never surrender and instead defend the masses and fight for their demands. So, napakahalaga ngayon na mapakinggan yung sinasabi ng masa na kailangan na ipagpatuloy ang pakikipaglaban. (It’s very important to listen to the masses to pursue the struggle.)

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