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Yet Another Turnaround on the Peace Talks

in Editorial

On April 3, speaking at a public gathering in Bongabong, Oriental Mindoro (a known stronghold of the New People’s Army), President Rodrigo Duterte made this unexpected statement:
“I’d like to address myself first to the NPAs (sic). You know, we’re not enemies. Even though I want to fight you, my heart says I could not kill my fellow Filipinos. Let’s talk about peace and stop killing… If you really want to negotiate with us, you stop immediately. You and I will have a ceasefire.”
“I want to pursue the peace talks with you,” he added, with this caution, “But along the way, there will be many obstructions and everything… You must understand that it won’t be easy for us.”
A sober statement, a welco

me departure from the usually bilious outbursts one was prone to expect from the volatile mayor-turned president.
The following day, Duterte directed his Cabinet, specifically his peace adviser Jesus Dureza, to work on resuming the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations he had repeatedly cancelled. “Let’s give this another last chance,” he said. He set a two-month period for the two parties to clear the way for the start of formal peace negotiations.

This is yet another Duterte turnaround on his stance vis-à-vis the peace talks and the revolutionary movement in over a year. Recall that after unraveling himself as a fascist he addressed the revolutionary forces—with whom he had avowed a long-running friendship—and curtly declared: “I am your enemy!” Thereafter he showed both in words and actions that he meant what he said.
Besides aggressively pursuing an “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA since February 2017 and ordering the AFP to use all its war assets to “flatten the hills,” Duterte issued two presidential edicts: one “terminating” the GRP-NDFP peace talks (Proclamation 360, on November 23) and another declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorist organizations” (Proclamation 374, on December 5).

Again to show he meant business, Duterte directed his corrupt and incompetent department of justice (DoJ) to secure judicial imprimatur for Proclamation 374, as required by the anti-terrorism law (oddly titled as the Human Security Act of 2007). On February 23 the DoJ filed a “petition for proscription,” asking a regional trial court in Manila to declare the CPP and the NPA as “terrorist and outlawed organizations, associations and/or group of persons.”

The petition cites the CPP and the NPA as respondents in the civil procedure specified by the law. However, it includes a list of 470 names and 187 aliases of individuals who it alleges to be “known officers and members” of the CPP-NPA. The listing implies that should the court declare the two organizations as terrorists, those named in the list would similarly be tagged and hounded as terrorists, stripped of their rights and freedoms.

According to the Public Interest Law Center, the Human Security Act treats suspected and judicially-declared terrorists alike. For instance, “both are sanctioned with surveillance, interception and recording of conversations, prolonged arbitrary detention, and examination of bank accounts.”

The list includes the names of five members of the NDFP negotiating panel, 30 NDFP consultants and one independent cooperator, at least 50 human rights defenders (including the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples), leaders of people’s organizations and activists, 20 peasant leaders, and 16 political detainees.

With his directive to continue the peace talks, Duterte is logically bound to rescind his Proclamation 374 and to order the withdrawal of the proscription petition from the court. Otherwise, how could the five members of the NDFP negotiating panel, the 30 consultants and the independent cooperator included in the DoJ “terrorist” list freely perform their functions in the peace negotiations?

But No! His senior deputy executive secretary Menardo Guevarra—who he has named to replace dismissed DoJ secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II—said the government would not withdraw the petition. Peace adviser Dureza echoed that line, but could not clearly explain why.

In a television interview, Dureza said: “My understanding is, when the talks were cancelled, [Proclamation 374] was a necessary step that government had to pursue. But (we) had to file a petition in court… and it’s pending there. There are no efforts to withdraw it.” He added, “We’d like to meet with (the NDFP panel) across the table first and find out how to deal with this [issue].”
NDFP chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison has appropriately called on Duterte to rescind both Proclamations 360 and 374 to provide a conducive atmosphere for continuing the peace talks.
However, Duterte has not said anything about this matter. One is drawn into assuming that he wants to hold his proclamation and the proscription petition as a Damocles sword over the heads of the NDFP negotiating panel, which is not conducive to peace negotiations.

Duterte can ensure the success of his “last-chance” pursuit of the peace talks by withdrawing the proscription petition. Failing that, the issue will be resolved by the court. A move towards such a resolution was recently taken through a motion to dismiss the DoJ petition for lack of merit.

On March 19, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), filed the motion to dismiss in behalf of Saturnino C. Ocampo, the independent cooperator invited by the NDFP panel to help in the peace talks. His name is listed in the DoJ petition among those it claims to be “known officers” of the CPP-NPA with known addresses through whom the respondents CPP and NPA “may be served with summons…” In the summons given to him, the court asked Ocampo to answer the allegations in the petition within 15 days.

Filing the motion to dismiss through the PILC was Ocampo’s way of complying with the summons. He puts forward two arguments: 1) Since the petition does not cite him as a respondent and does not show a cause for action against him, there is no valid basis for the court to acquire jurisdiction over his person. 2) The petition, despite its numerous documentary attachments, fails to present sufficient and convincing proof as required by the Human Security Act, on the basis of which the court can validly declare the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations. Therefore the court must dismiss the petition.

At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, on March 23, no DoJ prosecutor appeared before the court, which may indicate a lack of interest or resolve to pursue its petition. The court thus ordered the DoJ to submit a written reply to the motion within 15 days, after which it may either rule on the petition or schedule oral arguments.

Besides this issue, Duterte has set four preconditions that can obstruct the road towards the continuation of the peace negotiations. These are: a ceasefire upfront; “stop attacking my soldiers and policemen;” stop revolutionary taxation; and “don’t demand a coalition government.” Moreover, he has intimated he wants the peace negotiations to be held in the country—not abroad, as has been the agreed arrangement since 1992 to ensure the security of the NDFP panel, consultants, staff and other participants.

Setting such preconditions violates one of the principles set by the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, which states: “4. The holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually accepted principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations (emphasis ours).”

Nonetheless, with the view of averting another heated confrontation with Duterte, Sison has responded with an amiable stance. He said all these preconditions can be discussed, and probably settled in principle, between the two parties before agreeing to continue the interrupted formal negotiations.

“The important thing,” he pointed out, “is that the principals, namely President Duterte and the National Council of the NDFP, have given the go-signal to their respective negotiating panels to contact each other in preparation for the formal talks.”

Taking the cue from Sison’s stance, Dureza told the media the GRP has opted for a “quiet” approach to the pre-formal negotiations bilateral talks. GRP peace panel head Silvestre Bello III and he are “in a hurry” to meet with their NDFP counterparts, he said, because Duterte had given a two-month deadline.

“It’s going to be quiet talks in the meantime, so that if there is going to be some big result, then that’s the time when we’re gonna disclose it,” he said.

This mutual cool-headed or non-adversarial approach to tackling the abovecited issues—during the preliminary discreet discussions between the two parties—deserve commendation and encouragement by all peace advocacy groups, which commendably have unrelentingly called for the continuation of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

First things to settle: the formal peace negotiations must continue from the status at which Duterte “terminated” them in November 2017; the negotiations must continue in a neutral foreign venue facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government; and the parties must uphold all previously signed agreements.

It will help, to a considerable degree in enhancing a favorable atmosphere for continuing the peace talks, if the two parties agree to immediately implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). After all, they mutually committed to do so in their joint statement after the fourth round of formal negotiations in April 2017.

More than improving the atmosphere for negotiations and consultations, implementing the CARHRIHL can serve as a veritable test on the sincerity of both sides in carrying out their written commitments.

Over and above that, it will accord justice and provide material compensation to the numerous civilians (individuals, families, communities) who have endured sufferings due to violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, committed by either party, in the course of the almost half a century of internal armed conflict.

Mindlessly Mishandling the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

in Mainstream
by Leon Castro

Like a poker game that he plays all by himself, whimsically rigging the rules, is how Rodrigo R. Duterte now apparently treats the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He has mindlessly cast aside all the hard work that both his government’s negotiating panel and that of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have painstakingly undertaken.

Twice did Duterte arbitrarily cancel the fifth round of formal negotiations, in May and August 2017. But in both instances (as he had done earlier) he subsequently resorted to back-channel talks and agreed to continue the negotiations.

Up till the last minute, all looked rosy for the peace talks. In two discreet back-channel discussions in October and early November—to which Duterte had given explicit go-signal—the GRP and NDFP panels worked furiously to hammer out three draft documents. They had agreed, at the minimum, to refine and initial the documents at the fifth round and, at the maximum, to finalize and sign them at the sixth round in early 2018. The heads and members of both panels were already in Oslo, Norway, when Duterte’s order to cancel the talks came.

The three draft documents were: a draft agreement on agrarian reform and rural development and on national industrialization and economic development (the prime aspects of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms or CASER); a draft Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefire Agreement; and a draft General Amnesty for political prisoners.

Had the fifth round of formal negotiations proceeded and achieved its set objectives, 2017 would have ended with high hopes for continuing peace negotiations. And the Duterte government would have looked good in the eyes of the Filipino people.

Hundreds of hours of meetings cum negotiations by the Reciprocal Working Committees for Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) went into the drafting of the first document, which could have accelerated the entire peace process towards addressing the root causes of the nearly 50 years of armed conflict and attaining just and lasting peace in the country.

Common agrarian reform and national industrialization drafts

Over seven months of peace talks with four formal rounds of negotiations, the NDFP and the GRP panels were able to forge ahead in crafting common drafts for agrarian reform and rural development and for national industrialization and economic development. They held bilateral meetings during the second, third and fourth rounds—in Oslo, Norway (October 7-8, 2016); Rome, Italy (January 22-24, 2017); and Nordwijk an Zee, The Netherlands (April 4-5, 2017), respectively. In addition, there were no less than 10 bilateral meetings in the Philippines and abroad by the NDFP and GRP RWCs-SER between April 25 and November 17 last year.

On agrarian reform and national industrialization, there were nine sections in the common draft signed in Manila by the RWCs last November 20 and witnessed by the Royal Norwegian Government third party facilitator. These are:

Free distribution of land to tillers, farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolks and writing off of the arrears in amortization payments by earlier land reform beneficiaries;

The agreement includes coverage of plantations and large-scale commercial farms with leasehold, joint venture, non-land transfer schemes (e.g. stock distribution option);

  • Immediate and expedited installation of farmer beneficiaries;
  • Implementation of agrarian support services on production, harvest, post-harvest, insurance, credit and free irrigation;
  • Elimination of exploitative lending and trading practices;
  • Fisheries and aquatic resources reforms;
  • National land and water use policy aligned with agrarian reform;
  • Develop rural industries and domestic science and technology; and
  • Building of rural infrastructure, such as irrigation, post-harvest, transport, communication, power facilities.

Signed on the same day, the NDFP and the GRP RWCs common draft on national industrialization listed 10 agreed-on sections, as follows

  1. Use of the term “national industrialization”;
  2. Explicit mention of economic planning;
  3. Development of specific industries, industrial sectors, and industrial projects;
  4. Nationalization of public utilities and mining;
  5. “Filipinization” of minerals processing and trade;
  6. Regulation of foreign investment;
  7. State intervention and regulation;
  8. Creation of workers’ councils;
  9. Breaking foreign monopoly control of industrial technologies; and
  10. Financing through higher taxes on the rich and lower on poor, as well as revenues from gambling, luxury goods, tobacco/alcohol, and tariffs. The parties also agreed to set up an industrial investment fund.

The agrarian reform and rural development and the national industrialization and economic development accords, are parts of the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) Part III, under the title Developing the National Economy. These are mutually acknowledged by the NDFP and the GRP as the most important aspects of the peace negotiations. When finally approved by the principals and implemented, they are expected to alleviate poverty and inequality in the country—addressing the root causes of the armed conflict.

From both sub-agreements, the social and economic reform negotiations are expected to move on to the next issues, which are environmental protection, rehabilitation and compensation. The other parts of the CASER agenda include the following:

Part IV. Upholding people’s rights 
A. Rights of the working people
B. Promoting patriotic, progressive and pro-people culture
C. Recognition of ancestral lands and territories of national minorities

Part V. Economic sovereignty for national development 
A. Foreign economic & trade relations
B. Financial, monetary & fiscal policies
C. Social & economic planning

Part VI. Overall implementing mechanism

Part VII. Final provisions

Negotiations on the above issues are expected to be easier and faster, compared with those on agrarian reform and national industrialization which are deemed to be the hardest part of the entire negotiations.

Volatile GRP president

Apparently, all it took for Duterte to mindlessly cast aside these great achievements of the negotiations was his seeing on television militant activists protesting US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Philippines for the Asean summit last November. Were imagined personal slights arising from such protest action against one he probably considered a soul mate, more important to him than assiduously working to achieve peace?

Not long after seeing ASEAN protest videos on television, Duterte ordered his negotiators to cancel “all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDFP.” Subsequently, he issued Proclamation 360 (November 23) terminating the GRP-NDFP peace talks. This was followed by Proclamation 374 (December 5) declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as “terrorist organizations” under both the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9373) and the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 (RA 10168).

Under the law, the proscription of the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations doesn’t instantly take effect. The government needs to first file a petition with a Regional Trial Court to proclaim the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations, which petition will have to undergo hearings before the court can issue a ruling. Yet Duterte’s proclamation and his military minions’ relentless campaign to slander the revolutionary organizations have opened the gates to more human rights violations, as happened in his notorious Oplan Tokhang against suspected drug users and peddlers.

His ordering the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the reactionary government’s intelligence branches to arbitrarily list down suspected officers and members of underground revolutionary organizations and of their alleged aboveground “fronts” can only be interpreted as orders for increased intimidation, abduction, torture and murder of legal democratic activists and other civilians.

In the latter part of 2017, Duterte did these things that expose himself as a fraud and a liar disinterested in peace as well as a tyrant in the exact mold of his idol Ferdinand Marcos.

NDFP determined to fight for just peace

Duterte’s lies and slander against revolutionary organizations, however, failed to gain traction among the Filipino people. The people have become aware of and disgusted over Duterte’s mass murder of suspected drug users and peddlers. More and more have also wisened up to his obvious subservience to capitalist and foreign interests, plunder of the environment, attacks against peasant and national minority communities, and his own family’s connections with underworld groups. And his lies against the revolutionary forces are increasingly being dismissed as hot flashes of a drug-addled mind.

NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison has remarked that the US-directed Duterte regime is daydreaming that it can discredit and destroy the sovereign revolutionary will of the Filipino people by proscribing the revolutionary forces as terrorist organizations, by requiring them to submit themselves to the sham processes of the reactionary state, and by unleashing gross and systematic crimes of terrorism and human rights violations.

The Filipino people and the revolutionary forces, he said, are determined to fight for national and social liberation, people´s democracy, economic development, cultural progress and just peace.

While the Duterte fascist regime may have terminated the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, Sison pointed out, “it cannot be too sure that it will last long [in power] because the Filipino people and even those in the GRP detest the monstrous crimes of the regime, especially mass murder, corruption and puppetry to the US.” The crisis of the ruling system continues to worsen and the resources of the regime for violence and deception are limited.

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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