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Peace (Talking) Heads [Part 1 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

 

SATUR OCAMPO

Liberation (L): How was your experience during the first peace negotiations in 1986?

Satur Ocampo (SO): In the 1986 peace negotiations, the revolutionary movement was at its peak strength. The overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship and the popularity of the Cory Aquino regime served as the impetus for talking peace.  Cory Aquino initiated the talks. In a speech at the University of the Philippines, she declared she was ready to end the prolonged internal war by  addressing the roots of the armed conflict through peace negotiations.

As the NDFP spokesperson at the time, I responded that, in representation of the entire  revolutionary forces, the NDFP was prepared to talk  on the basis of addressing the roots of the armed conflict.  Thus, at the initial meeting, the NDFP panel—consisting of myself, the late Antonio Zumel, and Carolina “Bobbie” Malay—submitted a comprehensive proposal which gave a brief discussion of the historical context of the armed conflict, defined the social, economic, and political problems underlying the conflict, and urging negotiation points on how to resolve these problems.

 

L: What happened to the proposal?

SO: It appeared that the new government was not prepared. The GRP panel first counter-offered a six-year medium-term development plan, which the NDFP deemed as inadequate. The problems we wanted to tackle were deep-going and far-reaching,  well beyond the term of any single administration.

We were unable to agree on a substantive agenda for negotiations, due to intervening events that cut short the peace talks.  We were only able to formally negotiate and sign an interim (60 days) ceasefire agreement upon the insistence of President Cory Aquino.  But the ceasefire did not work out well due to differences on how it should be implemented. Our formal panel meetings got bogged down in discussing the cascade of complaints of ceasefire violations from both sides.

But that initial, informal exchange of documents set the norm for the future peace talks.  With every regime, the NDFP has pushed comprehensive proposals that would address the economic, social, political, and cultural demands of the people, and the GRP has had to respond to these.  In effect, the NDFP set the agenda of the peace negotiations.

 

L: Since 1986 up to the present,  the issue of a ceasefire has taken the center stage of the GRP-NDFP negotiations despite the proposals for reforms.

SO: Ah, that’s the spoiler.  The peace talks are now in peril because of the ceasefire issue.

When we examined peace agreements between revolutionary movements and reactionary governments in other parts of the world, we noted that reactionary governments have invariably adopted a common position: use the ceasefire accord to first demobilize the revolutionary army, then pressure or convince the revolutionary movement to pare down its proposals on the negotiating table, finally drive it towards capitulation.  The usual consequence was that the revolutionary movements ended up shortchanged on their demands for basic reforms.

 

L: How was your experience during the 1986 negotiations when there was a ceasefire?

SO: First, we should understand the context of the 1986 negotiations. It should be noted that the underground revolutionary movement, and the open democratic mass movement that developed in the 80s onward, played a big role in politically isolating and weakening the Marcos dictatorship. But, when the dictatorship was overthrown, the former implementers of  martial law—Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and AFP Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos, who joined the so-called people power uprising and were hailed as heroes—were appointed by Cory as defense minister and AFP chief, respectively.  The duo virulently, publicly opposed the peace negotiations.

There was thus the issue of security for the NDFP panel and all those assisting us. At the time, the revolutionary movement had no solid international network yet. It didn’t cross our minds to hold the negotiations abroad to ensure our physical safety. When the negotiations started the panels agreed, in principle, to alternately hold the talks in the revolutionary base areas and in the venues chosen by the GRP. But even on the side of the revolutionary forces, there was difficulty in implementing this arrangement. We ended up holding the talks in the Metro Manila area, without the safety guarantees, now provided by the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees). We only had  a government-issued safe conduct pass.

Before we could start the formal talks, Cory insisted on first forging a ceasefire agreement ahead of the discussions on the agenda. We opposed, but the pressure was strong. Certain allies in the anti-dictatorship movement who were in the new government supported the call for a ceasefire. We had to accede to the call.

The ceasefire began on December 10, 1986. It was also the start of the peace talks. On the part of the NDFP,  a kick-off ceremony was held in one of the barangays within a guerrilla zone in Bataan, adjacent to the town center.  When we got off our bus, the NPA had assembled an oversized squad of honor guards right at the plaza. Because the ceasefire agreement had a provision that no NPA Red fighter should enter such public place, the GRP ceasefire team accused the NDFP of violating the agreement.

 

L: What happened to the substantive agenda?

SO: The ceasefire implementing guidelines were not clearly defined. The only thing explicitly stated was that there should be no armed clashes between the two sides. The NPA fighters would hold on to their arms, but stay within their usual areas.  However, Ramos issued guidelines that stated all areas in the country were under the jurisdiction of the GRP and its security forces had the right to patrol these areas. The guidelines also said the state forces were the only ones authorized to hold firearms. Thus, when the military entered the guerrilla zones and encountered the armed NPA units, they demanded that the latter surrender their arms. The NPA resisted, which resulted in many firefights between the NPA and the AFP.

The negotiating panels never had the opportunity to start discussions on the substantive agenda because of these ceasefire violations. Even after these had been passed on to the bilateral ceasefire teams, discussions on the substantive issues could not take off.  There arose  threats to the security and lives of both panels, reportedly from the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) loyal to Enrile. When an opportunity came for the panels to discuss the NDFP proposed agenda  and the one drawn up by former Sen Jose W. Diokno (the original GRP panel chair who was stricken with and not long after died of cancer), with the theme “Food and freedom, jobs and justice”, the Mendiola massacre happened and disrupted the ongoing talks.

With the uncertain security situation,  the panels agreed to suspend the talks and attend to each other’s safety.  The NDFP panel went back to the countryside. We issued a statement urging continuation of the peace talks but got no response whatsoever from the GRP.

 

L: That was the end of it?

SO: From 1987 to 1989, I remained the NDFP spokesperson. Bobbie and I continued to work for the resumption of the peace negotiations through our allies in the different churches, both Catholic and Protestant. Meantime, Tony Zumel slipped out of the country and joined the NDFP delegation in The Netherlands.  In one such mission, on August 29, 1989, Bobbie and I were intercepted by a police intelligence team in Makati. We were arrested, detained and charged with three trumped-up, nonbailable criminal offenses: murder, kidnapping, and illegal possession of firearms.

President Cory Aquino did try to resume the peace talks, sending the late Congressman Jose “Mang Apeng” V. Yap as emissary twice to the NDFP leaders in exile in The Netherlands.  The latter welcomed the initiative and expressed readiness to resume the talk should the Cory government junk the extension of the US-RP military bases agreement, which at the time was being discussed in the Senate.  But those efforts  went to naught as Ramos, then defense secretary, and the military opposed the continuation of the talks.

 

L: Until Fidel Ramos became president?

SO: Surprisingly when Ramos became president, he sent Congressman Yap to be his emissary to the NDFP.  Yap’s mission led to the signing of The Hague Joint Declaration  (THJD) on September 1, 1992.  Coincidentally on that same day I was released from military detention at Fort Bonifacio.

To his credit, Pres. Ramos did not insist on a ceasefire. The talks progressed as fighting on the ground continued.  Despite repeated suspensions, the panels produced 10 signed agreements including the JASIG and the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law). The ceasefire issue was resurrected under the Duterte presidency. It has remained a troublesome issue up to now.

 

L: So you were still in jail when Ramos became president?

SO: Yes.  Ramos’ changed attitude towards pursuing the peace talks and the Congress repeal of the anti-subversion law upon his initiative, in some way, helped in my release. But the key factor was that the courts cleared us of the trumped-up charges. Bobbie was released ahead of me in November 1991.

I joined the open democratic mass movement and partly went back to journalism after my release and had not been officially involved in the peace negotiations. But the media often sought my views on the developments of the peace negotiations, probably because I have been indelibly identified with the NDFP as its national spokesperson and first chief peace negotiator. The image of being “the face of the NDFP” has stuck.  I was also often invited to speak at public forums on the peace talks.

 

L: From someone who is outside the negotiating panel, which regime do you think did the NDFP had the most difficulty?

SO: Ang pinakamaganit (most difficult) was the P-Noy government. Not only was P-Noy laid-back and hands-off, unlike Ramos, he was also was adversarial.  And he appointed a social democrat, who harbored a bitterly anti-communist position, as his peace adviser and overseer of GRP panel in the peace negotiations.

The second Aquino regime opted to focus on and complete the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But when Aquino was pressured to stand by his electoral promise to resume the peace talks with the NDFP, he appointed Alex Padilla to head the GRP negotiating panel.  Formerly associated with the progressive mass movement, Alex consulted me about P-Noy’s offer before accepting it. He said he was interested because he wanted to help.

I advised Alex to talk with P-Noy, to level off with him on what to do regarding the peace talks.  “If you don’t agree, there’s no point in accepting the offer,” I said. Should he accept, I pointed out that as chief negotiator, he would be the President’s plenipotentiary representative and ought to directly report to and consult with the latter and not go through any intermediary, such as the presidential peace adviser. But, P-Noy decided to leave matters entirely in the hands of Ging Deles, such that she became Alex’s “boss”. Patay na.

When the talks formally resumed in February 2011, the two panels reaffirmed the previously signed agreements but the GRP panel did so “with reservations”. Deles (with Alex seconding) called The Hague Joint Declaration as a “document of perpetual division”, labelled the CARHRIHL as “CPP propaganda”, and declared the JASIG “inoperative”.  Thus the peace negotiations were abandoned by the GRP — but not formally terminated.

Ging Delez also used the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) for counterinsurgency, fully buttressing Oplan Bayanihan with her own program liberally funded with billions of pesos.  Apparently some policies and the programs that were instituted during her time are being carried out by Duterte’s  peace adviser, Jesus Dureza.

 

L: How influential is OPAPP in the talks?

SO: OPAPP, during the time of Ramos, had no role in direct negotiations. It implemented programs for rebel returnees. It became powerful during the second Aquino government. Under Duterte, OPAPP chief Jess Dureza works in tandem with GRP panel chair Bebot Bello, but clearly asserts a louder voice than the chief negotiator.

Both are Duterte’s close friends.  But I observed that they had been amiss, particularly at critical junctures of the peace negotiations, for failing to immediately brief the President on the status or results of each round of negotiations. Such shortcoming on their part has resulted in Duterte blustering and making pronouncements that created problems and disrupted the negotiations — such as what happened in February — and he needed to walk back on his blusterings to put things aright later.

In light of the present impasse, I would suggest that Jess and Bebot, who both have invested so much time and efforts in the peace talks since Ramos’ watch,  to persuade and convince the President to continue and complete the formal negotiations on CASER and CAPCR (Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Consitutional Reforms) the soonest possible time, as they had committed to do.  There are those within the government who want to sabotage the negotiations. Jess and Bebot should assert that completing the negotiations, and more importantly implementing them would give great credit to the Duterte government.  Wasn’t Bebot saying until recently that the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations could be the best legacy of  Pres. Duterte to the Filipino people?  And hadn’t Jess been repeatedly hailing Duterte’s “deep passion for peace”?

 

L: While you were not part of the negotiaing panel, what support do you give them?

SO: I continue to monitor the peace negotiations, and make myself available to assist in whatever way I can.  As a weekly columnist for a major daily, I have written several pieces reporting on the peace talks, analyzing and explaining what I deemed to be important points the readers needed to know.  And I continue to speak at various forums providing updates, analysis and explanations on critical issues.

 

L: What can you say about the talks with the Duterte government, where is this heading?

SO: Cooperation between the two panels is important. They should both be strong and maintain principled stand against the countervailing pressures and maneuvers of those who want to derail the progress of the negotiations on social and economic reforms by insisting on giving primacy to a prolonged bilateral ceasefire. But the GRP panel, led by the OPAPP,  tends to go soft on the issue.

Midway through the rounds of talks, the NDFP registered clearly it was open to signing an interim ceasefire agreement immediately after the CASER is signed, not before.  The GRP panel agreed but later gave the feedback that those in the cabinet security cluster were insistent on the signing of a ceasefire ahead of the CASER.  Clearly there’s a tug of war within the cabinet, and Duterte has tended to go along his security advisers.

The insistence on a joint ceasefire disturbed the relatively smooth flow of the first to the fourth rounds of talks, and led to the cancellation of the fifth round. The fourth round already began somewhat rocky.  Were it not for the ceasefire imbroglio, the negotiations on social and economic reforms could have advanced much further and President Duterte could have presented a positive report on the peace talks in his  second SONA, rather than go blustering that he no longer wanted to talk peace with the Left.

 

L: What is the role of the mass movement in the peace talks?

SO: The open democratic mass movement, along with the various peace advocacy groups supporting the agenda for fundamental reforms, has played a significant role in the peace talks. It has helped a lot in justifying the need for peace talks and in popularizing the vital issues being discussed and negotiated on that affect the lives and the future of our people, especially the poor.  And whenever there occurs a breakdown or impasse, the mass movement has largely provided the needed pressure on the two sides—particularly on the government that has always caused the breakdown or impasse—to resume negotiations and to stick to the agreed-on substantive agenda.

 

L: What have we gained from the peace talks?

SO: The signing and repeated reaffirmation of previous  agreements have ensured the sustained path of the peace talks, no matter the interruptions. Also a perusal of all the signed agreements, foremost of which is the CARHRIHL, will show how serious, responsible, diligent and far-seeing has been the NDFP and all the revolutionary forces it represents, in their pursuit of a just and lasting peace. And all through the ups and downs of the peace talks the NDFP has shown durability and perseverance in taking and fighting for the correct positions.

Much of these we owe to the dedication of the panel members who have grown old on the job. We also owe these to the consultants, staff, and researchers, everybody working with the panel to formulate well crafted proposals and to link directly with the masses and explain the issues to them, solicit their inputs, thus involving them in the negotiations.

 

L: Are you still “enjoying” the talks? Aren’t you exhausted?

SO: We shouldn’t get tired in the pursuit of peace. We already have a good grasp of the dynamics of both parties, of the reactionary governments we’ve had negotiated with. The most important thing is that we are able to adjust our negotiating tactics to changing conditions or sudden twists, how to give and take without sacrificing our principles—ever  upholding the people’s interests and welfare.

For a while we thought this government is the best among all previous administrations to work with in pushing for basic reforms, given how Duterte evinced such willingness to take the Left as its partner for change. It’s mainly up to him now what to do with the stalled peace negotiations as vehicle for such partnership. He knows he has very limited time, five years. He wants a change in the Constitution to shift to a federal form of government. Despite questions on some aspects of federalism, the NDFP offered to co-found the federal government he envisions, provided it does away with political dynasties, warlords and other exploitative, oppressive, anti-people elements.

If Duterte is looking for an ally, with a capacity to consistently think of what’s best for the country, then he should look to the Left, not to the traditional politicians who are only after their personal interests.  From his decades-long experience, he knows that the Left is the only force the people can rely on to consistently fight for their interests and welfare. There have been many sacrifices in the almost 50 years of the people’s war and the leaders of the movement have been proven to be devoid of personal ambitions. Many have spent their whole lives in the movement and the movement has systematically ensured capable replacements. Eventually, the turning point of our development as a nation will be attained with the Left.

Photo from Pinoy Weekly

Keep Reading

Memories of The Hague Joint Declaration

in Mainstream
by Luis Jalandoni
DOWNLOAD:
Special Issue for the 25th Anniversary of The Hague Joint Declaration
NDFP Representative at the 
Signing of The Hague Joint Declaration
September 1, 1992

 

Both delegations of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) were ready to finalize the text of The Hague Joint Declaration. The media were waiting.

Due to the intense discussion on the use of the GRP Constitution as the guide of the peace negotiations and the NDFP insistence that we also had our own Constitution and Program, I proposed to put into the text: NO SURRENDER!

GRP delegate, Col. Cesar Garcia, strongly reacted: NO!

A moment of tension and impasse!

It was Prof. Jose Maria Sison who broke the impasse. He proposed the text: “No precondition that negates the inherent character and purpose of peace negotiations shall be imposed.”

Relief! Both sides accepted the alternative. This meant enshrining of the principle of non-capitulation, the principle of parity and reciprocity. Imposition by one party of its constitution would mea the submission of the other. There would no longer be any peace negotiation.

The Hague Joint Declaration also defined the substantive agenda of the negotiations: respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces. This ensured that the peace negotiations must address the roots of the armed conflict.

 

Recognizing the Judicial and Legal System of the Reactionary Government

Two years earlier, in September 1990, the NDFP representatives met with leaders of the Farabundo Marti Liberation Movement (FMLN). We asked the FMLN leaders, “Why did you accept the judicial and legal system of the Salvadoran government?” Their answer: “Because it is de facto.”

Our group led by Prof. Sison responded: “If you accept the judicial and legal system of the reactionary government as de facto, and you do not assert the judicial and legal system of your revolutionary movement as ALSO de facto, you may fall into the danger of capitulation!”

A day after the FMLN signed their peace deal with the Salvadoran government, a former FMLN guerrila fighter later narrated: “The landlords and military forcibly took away all our gains in the agrarian revolution!”

 

The Experience of the Moro National Liberation Front at the Tripoli Agreement of 1976

At Tripoli, Libya in December 1976, Nur Misuari, Chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was put under heavy pressure by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC,  led by Moammar Khadafi, insisted that Nur Misuari agree to put in writing that the GRP Constituion is the guide to the GRP-MNLF Agreement. An eyewitness to that event, Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Pacifico Castro, narrated this to us. It was like a dagger in the heart of Nur Misuari, said Secretary Castro.

 

Attacks against The Hague Joint Declaration by Secretary Deles and Mr. Padilla of the GRP

The principle of non-capitulation, parity and reciprocity was targeted for attack by Secretary Teresita Deles and Alexander Padilla. In February 2011, the GRP Negotiating Panel led by Padilla declared The Hague Joint Declaration as “a document of perpetual division”. This attack on the framework and foundation of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations was followed by the attack of Secretary Deles and Mr. Padilla on the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as “inoperative”. Padilla likewise attacked the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) as “an NDFP propaganda document”.

 

Continuing Relevance of The Hague Joint Declaration

Up to now, 25 years after, and in the future, THJD, is very relevant. The principle of non-capitulation, parity and reciprocity must be upheld to effectively oppose the United Nations’ paradigm of DDR, Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, and other attempts at undermining revolutionary movements striving for national and social liberation, genuine independence and a just and lasting peace.

“If you accept the judicial and legal system of the reactionary government as de facto, and you do not assert the judicial and legal system of your revolutionary movement as ALSO de facto, you may fall on the danger of capitulation!”

The Hague Joint Declaration as Framework Agreement and Continuing Validity in the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

in Mainstream
by Prof. Jose Maria Sison
DOWNLOAD:
Special Issue for the 25th Anniversary of The Hague Joint Declaration
Chief Political Consultant
National Democratic Front of the Philippines 
September 1, 2017

 

For inviting me to write this paper addressed to all peace advocates on the occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the The Hague Joint Declaration, I thank the core organizing committee of representatives of the NDFP Nominated Section in the Joint Secretariat of the GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee, BAYAN and its affiliates, Pilgrims for Peace, Kapayapaan, lawmakers and legal luminaries, religious leaders, human rights activists and professionals in various fields.

Let me give you an overview of the major developments since the Declaration was forged on September 1, 1992 in The Hague, The Netherlands, with the facilitation of a Dutch solidarity friend Member of the European Parliament  and the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations. I shall use as chronological guideposts the administrations of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) with which the NDFP has been negotiating on and off. Ultimately, I shall discuss the continuing relevance of The Hague Joint Declaration and the prospects of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

 

The Hague Joint Declaration as Framework for Peace Negotiations

But before I discuss the history of the said peace negotiations, let me review with you this Declaration as the negotiating framework . The document is quite short and contains five highly important points:

  1. Formal peace negotiations between the GRP and NDF shall be held to resolve the armed conflict.

  2. The common goal of the aforesaid negotiations shall be the attainment of a just and lasting peace.

  3. Such negotiations shall take place after the parties have reached tentative agreements on substantive issues in the agreed agenda through the reciprocal working committees to be separately organized by the GRP and NDF.

  4. The holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice, and no precondition whatsoever shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.

  5. Preparatory to the formal peace negotiations, we have agreed to recommend the following:

  6. Specific measures of goodwill and confidence building to create a favorable climate for peace negotiations; and

  7. The substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law; social and economic reforms; political and constitutional  reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces

The signatories of the Declaration were Rep Jose V. Yap as emissary of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Luis Jalandoni as representative of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Witnesses were Eric D. Singson and Teresita de Castro, State Counsel of the GRP, and Coni Ledesma, Byron Bocar and this speaker as Chief Political Consultant of the NDFP. Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, NDFP legal adviser, later NDFP General Counsel, played a key role. He was also a close friend of Rep. Yap. He went back and forth bringing key proposals for the agreement.

 

Fidel Ramos

Ramos Administration, 1992-1998

Despite the signing of the The Hague Joint Declaration on September 1, 1992, GRP President Fidel V. Ramos did not form the GRP Negotiating Panel but proceeded to form the National Unification Commission (NUC) with the announced purpose of undertaking local peace negotiations in collaboration with the regional peace and order councils of the GRP. The charade in which military assets posed as commanders of the New People’s Army (NPA) in sessions arranged by the NUC caused a delay for more than two years in the formation of the GRP and NDFP Negotiating Panels, as required by The Hague Joint Declaration.  However,  BAYAN and peace advocates  undertook serious effort in engaging the NUC in the many “consultations” that they held both in Manila and in other regions.  Thus, the NUC framework mainly to hold “consultations” with so-called “stakeholders” in order to justify replacing GRP-NDFP negotiations with local peace talks and providing government services and “development” to underserved communities, was sharply exposed and criticized.

Soon after the Ramos administration dissolved the NUC, the GRP and the NDFP Negotiating Panels respectively under the chairmanship of Ambassador Howard Q. Dee and Luis Jalandoni were formed by their respective principals and were able to forge the Ground Rules of Formal Meetings and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) in 1994. They were also able to draft the Joint Agreement on the  Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of Reciprocal Working Committees for signing and approval by the panels at the formal opening of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations in 1995 in Brussels, Belgium with the facilitation of the Belgian government.

Immediately after the formal opening, the peace negotiations snagged because of the refusal of the Ramos administration to release from prison the NDFP political consultant Sotero Llamas. After his release, the negotiating panels eventually succeeded in forging the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998 in six months of concentrated work by bilateral teams.  This is the first item in the substantive agenda of the peace negotiations. Ramos and House Speaker Jose de Venecia expressed the wish that the public signing and approval of the CARHRIHL could be done by the GRP and NDFP principals in Manila if the CPP Founding Chairman and NDFP Chief Political Consultant would attend the event. The wish did not materialize. Ramos finished his term without signing and approving CARHRIHL.

 

Estrada Administration, 1998-2001

Joseph Estrada

NDFP Chairman Mariano Orosa approAved and signed the CARHRIHL on April 10, 1998, followed by GRP President Joseph Estrada on August 7, 1998. But the peace negotiations never got off the ground because Estrada dilly-dallied in appointing a new GRP Negotiating Panel and took offense at the NPA capturing and holding General Victor Obillo and his aide, Captain Eduardo Montealto as prisoners of war. The NDFP offered their release as a goodwill and confidence-building measure, provided  separate but simultaneous and reciprocal  ceasefires would be declared for their safe and orderly release. After the Estrada administration refused to issue its own ceasefire declaration, the prisoners of war in the custody of the NPA were turned over to Senator Loren Legarda and other peace advocates.

In 1999, the NDFP admonished Estrada not to sign the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US. He took offense at this once more and formally terminated the peace negotiations with the NDFP on May 31, 1999 by giving a 30-day notice of termination in accordance with the JASIG. As he unleashed war on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro, the NDFP intensified the people’s war and rapidly weakened and isolated the Estrada administration. Estrada’s movie star “popularity ” evaporated quickly. When already in desperation in 2000, he sought to resume the peace negotiations upon the advice of Tarlac Governor Jose V. Yap. But it was too late. The broad united front against his regime was all set to oust him from power in January 2001.

 

Arroyo Administration, 2001-2010

Vice-President Gloria M. Arroyo took over the presidency upon the  overthrow of Estrada by a broad mass movement, including anti-Estrada conservative forces. An international solidarity conference of peace advocates was held in April 2001 in Manila, jointly sponsored by the Joint Peace Committee of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and by the GRP and NDFP. There was optimism that the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations would be resumed and would advance faster than before. Former officials of the Ramos administration cooperated with Arroyo. A high intelligence officer of the GRP even agreed to provide evidence for the assassination plot of the Estrada regime against the NDFP Chief Political Consultant. The GRP and NDFP agreed to  accept the offer of the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) to act as third party facilitator.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels reaffirmed the agreements that had been mutually signed and approved since 1992 and resumed the peace negotiations in earnest. However, the negotiations in June 2001 in Oslo, Norway were disrupted when the notorious human rights violator Colonel Rodolfo Aguinaldo resisted arrest and was killed by the New People’s Army in Cagayan, and the GRP side used this incident as pretext for backing out of the peace negotiations. The Arroyo regime “suspended” formal talks from June 14 to September 1, 2001 in violation of the JASIG which does not provide for suspension but only either the continuity or termination of peace negotiations.

Within the last week of November and first week of December 2001, a back channel team of the GRP headed by Speaker de Venecia came to The Netherlands to inform the NDFP that the GRP had requested the US government to put the CPP, NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant in its list of foreign “terrorists” and that the Anti-Money Laundering Council would look into the bank accounts of the CPP, NPA and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, unless the NPA engaged the AFP in ceasefire and surrender its arms. The NDFP rebuffed the brazen threats but proposed that the peace negotiations could be accelerated without violating The Hague Joint Declaration in order to reach the end of hostilities after agreements on social, economic, political and constitutional reforms.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita (a retired general), Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes (also a retired general) and National Security Adviser; and eventually Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, an ultra-reactionary from a pseudo-socialist group, used the Security Cluster of the Arroyo Cabinet to direct the Office of the Presidential Adviser  on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and to cause the ouster of less reactionary members of the GRP Negotiating Panel. During and shortly after the presidential elections of 2004, Arroyo sought the support of the NDFP and went through the motions of showing interest in the resumption of formal peace talks. In June 2004, the GRP and NDFP,  with the support of the RNG as Third Party Facilitator, agreed to the setting up of the offices of the Joint  Secretariat in the Philippines. But the ultra-reactionaries or rabid anti-communists had  already taken complete control of the GRP Negotiating Panel and were hell bent on sabotaging the peace process with the demand for NPA surrender and pacification in line with the “counterinsurgency” program Oplan Bantay Laya I and II.

 

Aquino Administration, 2010-2016

When Benigno Aquino III became GRP President in 2010, he showed no interest in the peace negotiations but in using these as a way of imposing the reactionary state on the NDFP and as a psywar means of the US-designed Oplan Bayanihan. He appointed the ultra-reactionary and rabid anti-communist Teresita Deles as the head of OPAPP. He was late in forming the GRP Negotiating Panel. He seemed compelled to form it only because of the advice of former Sen. Wigberto Tañada and Rep. Erin Tañada. The formal talks during the Aquino II regime was resumed in 2011. At the very outset, Deles attempted to preside over both the GRP and NDFP, but  the NDFP rebuffed her.

Noynoy Aquino

On the first day of the February 15-21, 2011 talks, GRP Panel Chair Alexander Padilla declared that they were reaffirming The Hague Joint Declaration and other past agreements but with reservation. Then he added that The Hague Joint Declaration was “a document of perpetual division.” The NDFP Panel issued a written response, repudiating the said GRP assertion. The NDFP panel chairperson pointed out that the Declaration had paved the way for twelve major agreements and that it would enable further agreements to reconcile and unite the two sides on reforms needed to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the ground for a just and lasting peace. The GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels agreed to reaffirm The Hague Joint Declaration and all major agreements to which it had given risen. But with a forked tongue, the GRP panel inserted and included the qualification that the Declaration was a “document of perpetual division.”

Because the GRP always doubted and denied  the authenticity of documents of identification issued to NDFP consultants, the NDFP agreed to the examination  of the computer discs bearing the identification data of the NDFP consultants in a Dutch bank safety deposit box.  The two sides and the third party discovered that the discs had become unreadable because the diskettes with the cipher keys had been damaged as a result of their seizure  in a raid by the Dutch intelligence police on the NDFP International Office and residences of NDFP panel members, consultants and staff members.

The GRP side used the discovery to fend off the demand of the NDFP for the reconstitution of its list of consultants who were entitled to the protection of the JASIG and to paralyze the peace negotiations. Attempts were made to use back channel talks with Aquino’s political adviser Ronald Llamas and then with a team headed by Hernani Braganza to overcome the obstacles put up by the Aquino II regime. But these proved futile because the ultra-reactionary Deles and military officers wanted nothing less than the immediate surrender and pacification of the revolutionary forces and people under the guise of a protracted ceasefire.

 

Duterte Administration, 2016-Present

Before and soon after assuming the GRP presidency, Rodrigo R. Duterte described himself as a socialist wishing to become the first Left president of the Philippines and to negotiate a just and lasting peace with the NDFP and the revolutionary forces of the Bangsamoro. To the NDFP, through Fidel Agcaoili on May 16, 2016, he promised to amnesty and release all the political prisoners listed by the NDFP. On his own initiative, he appointed to his Cabinet four patriotic and progressive individuals who are highly competent, honest and diligent. Everything looked rosy for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP negotiations on the substantive agenda.

But soon enough, Duterte exposed himself as a demagogue and master of deception when in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, 2016, he unilaterally  declared in general terms a ceasefire with the NDFP without any prior information in sufficient detail to the NDFP and demanded that the NDFP reciprocate blindly and issue its own ceasefire declaration. It turned out his ceasefire declaration was nothing more than the Suspension of Military Operations Order (SOMO) and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO), both of which allowed the reactionary military and police forces and their paramilitary auxiliaries to attack the revolutionary forces and people under the pretext of law enforcement and merely continued Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan until the issuance of Duterte’s own Oplan Kapayapaan.

Rodrigo Duterte

At any rate, the GRP and the NDFP sides agreed to issue their respective unilateral but reciprocal ceasefire declarations in order to promote the formal rounds of talks. Thus, an unprecedented ceasefire of more than five months ran from August 2016 to February 4, 2017 when Duterte terminated the peace negotiations without even consulting his own negotiating panel on February 20 as previously scheduled and despite the success of the third round of formal talks in Rome on January 19-25, 2017. Under pressure from the Defense Secretary, the National Security Adviser and the AFP Chief of Staff, Duterte demanded a bilateral ceasefire from the NDFP and immediately declared an all-out war policy against the armed revolutionary forces, without ever withdrawing such policy even when the fourth round of formal talks was held in Noordwijk, The Netherlands on April 3-6, 2017.

The insincerity or chicanery of Duterte was first exposed during the first and second rounds of formal talks in Oslo when he backtracked on his promise to amnesty and release all political prisoners in compliance with the CARHRIHL and JASIG. He released only 19 political prisoners on bail and subsequently ordered their rearrest whenever he terminated the peace negotiations or threatened to do so. He has remained adamant that he would not amnesty and release all the political prisoners, unless he first secures the surrender and pacification of the people’s armed revolution under the guise of a protracted and indefinite bilateral ceasefire. He has shown no interest in the acceleration of the peace negotiations to arrive at the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) before the Comprehensive Agreement on the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF).

Duterte is surrounded by neoliberal economic advisers and is obsessed with infrastructure building and importing manufactures by auctioning off the natural resources of the country, favoring foreign monopoly capitalism and raising taxes and foreign loans to cover budgetary and trade deficits. He is also surrounded by pro-US military advisers who embolden him to carry out a policy of killing people and bombing communities to suppress the armed revolution and preserve the rotten semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system. The regime has made impossible any substantial allocation of resources for national industrialization and genuine land reform under CASER. The Duterte plan of charter change for federalism ignores the forging of the CAPCR, which is necessary to prevent a pseudo-federal system of regional and provincial warlords under the highly centralized unitary presidential tyranny of Duterte.

 

Current Circumstances of Impasse Caused by Duterte Regime

Duterte has “terminated” the peace negotiations thrice.  The first one was on February 4, 2017 in conjunction with the issuance of his all-out war policy against the revolutionary forces and the people.  It was followed up by a “formal”  termination of the peace negotiations in a letter to the NDFP Negotiating Panel from OPAPP Secretary Dureza. Through the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, the NDFP patiently reminded and prevailed upon the OPAPP secretary that it I would be better to talk and that teams of the GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels could meet for back channel talks. Thus, the teams met in Utrecht and agreed  on March 11, 2017 that the GRP and NDFP engage in discussions for   reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declarations  be held before the fourth round of formal talks.  But the GRP backed out of such a ceasefire agreement and insisted on a prolonged and indefinite bilateral ceasefire agreement ahead of  negotiations on the reforms required by The Hague Joint Declaration. Even then, the fourth round of formal talks proceeded and the two sides agreed among others to work out an interim  joint ceasefire agreement in conjunction with the signing and approval of CASER and the release of all political prisoners.

The second instance Duterte declared to the press the termination of peace negotiations was without a formal notice of termination.  The “termination” was made in connection with the Duterte regime´s cancellation of the 5th  round of formal talks and its complaint that the CPP had ordered the NPA to intensify tactical offensives against the May 23 proclamation of martial law Mindanao-wide, which targeted not only the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi but also the revolutionary forces and people outside Bangsamoro areas.  The NDFP pointed out that  it was in fact the aggrieved party because the Duterte regime never withdrew its all-out war policy under Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino regime and then Oplan Kapayapaan of the Duterte regime.  And the all-out war policy was aggravated by the Mindanao-wide martial rule  and the repeated threats to extend this nation wide. In the absence of any formal notice of termination,  the NDFP consultants on bail who were stranded in The Netherlands were able to return home upon the facilitation of the RNG and on the assumption that the peace negotiations were still ongoing.

The third instance Duterte declared again to the press the termination of the peace negotiations was on July 19, 2017 immediately after the Arakan incident in which two vans  of the Presidential Security Group ran into an NPA checkpoint.  He also stopped the GRP negotiating panel from meeting with its NDFP counterpart for back channel talks on July 21-23 to prepare the fifth round of formal talks.  He made it appear later that the NPA had tried  to ambush him. In fact, he was responsible for failing to avail of a longstanding mechanism by which he could have arranged his safe passage with officials of the people’s  revolutionary government in their territory.  Further investigation showed that the most important passenger in one of the vans was not Duterte but a girlfriend of his.

Duterte and his partisans are making it appear that the NDFP is simply against an interim bilateral or joint ceasefire. In fact, the NDFP considers such a ceasefire possible after the GRP complies with CARHRIHL by an amnesty and release of all the political prisoners; and after the CASER is duly signed and approved  by the respective principals of the GRP and the NDFP.  In this regard, the NDFP has exercised flexibility without violating The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees.  The NDFP has always made clear that short of any agreement to form a single national unity government under the CAPCR the people’s democratic government exercises all its governmental functions among the people in its territory. In the current civil war in the Philippines, the revolutionary government and the reactionary government confront and fight each other as co-belligerents.

 

Continuing Relevance of the Declaration and Prospects of Peace

The Hague Joint Declaration has continuing relevance. The five points therein are still needed to guide the peace negotiations. They give the two negotiating sides ample space to negotiate and make mutually satisfactory agreements for the benefit of the Filipino people. The root causes of the civil war that need to be addressed have persisted since the signing of the Declaration in 1992. The reactionary ruling system of big compradors and landlords under US hegemony continues to exist but is confronted by an ever worsening social and political crises and the rise of the revolutionary forces, including the party of the proletariat, the people’s army, the mass organizations, the organs of political power and the alliances.

Whenever any reactionary administration of the GRP is willing to engage in peace negotiations with the NDFP or refuses to do so, the NDFP and the revolutionary forces and people that it represents have no choice but to continue further strengthening the revolutionary party of the proletariat, the people’s army, the mass organizations, the local organs of political power and the alliances. Those who oppose the armed revolution of the people assume the perpetuity of the reactionary state and ignore the growing strength and scope of the people’s democratic government of workers and peasants, which is fighting the reactionary government of big compradors and landlords.

Right now, the balance of forces is such that the possible outcome of the negotiations for a just and lasting peace can only consist of social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that are mutually agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP. The mutually satisfactory agreements can raise the level of national independence, democracy, and economic development through national industrialization and genuine land reform, social justice, expansion of social services, a patriotic, scientific and mass culture and education, national self defense and independent foreign policy. They satisfy the demands of the people now and open the way to a still higher level of development.

Even if the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations cannot succeed at this time, the revolutionary forces and the people will keep increasing their strength by all means, especially people’s war. There is  still the possibility that a better negotiating counterpart less reactionary than the current one can arise or the crisis of the ruling system becomes so aggravated that it produces a government that is more ready to come to agreement with the NDFP and the people’s democratic government. But of course, the best circumstances for the peace negotiations with an adversary are when the revolutionary forces and the people are already in the stage of the strategic offensive, they are about to win power in the urban areas and on a nationwide scale, and the reactionary government is already collapsing and disintegrating.

Jose Maria Sison, Jose V. Yap, and Luis Jalandoni

Peace Talks in Duterte’s First Year: Flagging Political Will and Consistency

in Mainstream
by Angel Balen

As he began his six-year term in July 2016, President Rodrigo R. Duterte set off a momentum for change by taking bold, dramatic moves and making definitive pronouncements in pursuance of his campaign cry, “Change is coming!”

However, towards the latter part of his first year in power the momentum for change has faltered.  He has tended more and more to backslide towards the Right.  Dragged and rendered as casualty in that flow and ebb were the peace talks of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (GRP-NDFP), which Duterte had vowed to resume, and to complete and begin implementing the substantive agreements (on social, economic and political reforms) within his term.

The formal negotiations resumed on August 22 in an atmosphere of amity and euphoria: the new president had caused the release of 21 NDFP consultants and staff, enabling them to participate in the talks. As regards the other 400 political prisoners, he had offered (in May before he took office)  to issue an amnesty proclamation to expedite their release.

The two parties reaffirmed the 12 previously signed agreements (from 1992 to 2004) and “resolved to conduct formal talks and consultations in accordance with said agreements” (Joint Statement, August  26, 2016).  They reconstituted the list of NDFP consultants given safety and immunity guarantees under the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) and completed the requisite guidelines to implement the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law).

Furthermore, they have agreed to accelerate the pace of the negotiations, setting up the necessary mechanisms and procedures, and made significant gains in three successive rounds of formal negotiations until the end of January 2017.  Then something happened that rudely interrupted the good things going on so well, as acknowledged by both negotiating panels.

“Moving the Peace Talks Forward,” the lead article of Liberation, January-March issue, pointed out the main factor that has since impeded the relatively smooth flow of the peace negotiations.  “War hawks in the administration, led by pro-US defense and military officials,” the article said, “soon began undermining the strides made in three rounds of formal peace talks in the first six months of the new government.”

The war hawks avidly exploited to their advantage an initiative by President Duterte (which they had probably suggested) that has turned into a problematic and troublesome element in the peace talks: his declaration on August 21 of an indefinite unilateral ceasefire.

In May 2016, when as president-elect he met with then NDFP emissary Fidel Agcaoili and committed to resume the long-suspended peace talks, Duterte did not at all speak of a ceasefire. Neither was a ceasefire declaration discussed during the June preliminary bilateral talks between his emissaries and the NDFP negotiating panel held in Oslo, Norway.  But when he delivered his first state-of-the-nation address in July, he announced a unilateral ceasefire, which he hastily withdrew because the NDFP did not immediately reciprocate with a similar ceasefire declaration.  It was explained to him later that the NDFP had waited for details on how the ceasefire would be implemented before issuing its reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declaration.

A day before the formal resumption of the peace talks, Duterte again declared an indefinite unilateral ceasefire. This time the Communist Party of the Philippines  (CPP) and the NDFP responded by declaring their reciprocal indefinite unilateral ceasefire.

 

Devious plan

Absent mutually-agreed guidelines for implementing the reciprocal unilateral ceasefires, the war hawks moved fast to carry out their devious plan:  aggressively they pushed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP )counterinsurgency operations, misrepresented as assistance to government “peace and development” programs, in hinterland and rural communities under the control or influence of the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA).  Over five months, AFP intruded into and occupied 500 barangays nationwide, spurring complaints from the affected communities that the state security forces subjected them to threats, harassments, and other forms of abuses and human rights violations. The violations have been duly documented by the human rights monitoring organization, Karapatan (whose Secretary General is an independent observer in the Joint Monitoring Committee [JMC] under the CARHRIHL), and submitted to the NDFP panel.

Through those five months, the ceasefire held as the NPA consistently evaded engaging the intruding state forces in combat, thus evincing sincere adherence to its own unilateral ceasefire declaration. However, the CPP raised to the NDFP panel its complaints against the AFP’s persistent deceitful violations of the ceasefire.  On two occasions — Nov. 4, 2016 and Jan. 4, 2017 — the NDFP panel handed over the documented complaints to the GRP panel.

Having observed no change in the AFP’s actions, the CPP served notice to the NDFP panel that the situation on the ground was becoming untenable, and that soon it would withdraw its ceasefire declaration.  During the third round of formal talks (held in Rome in late January), the NDFP panel relayed that notice to its government counterpart, warning that the AFP violations were already endangering the peace talks.  On February 1, 2017, the CPP announced its ceasefire withdrawal.

Although he was apprised by the NDFP panel of the reason for the withdrawal, President Duterte angrily reacted to the maliciously distorted information fed to him by the war hawks about the NPA allegedly violating its own ceasefire. Peremptorily he cancelled the peace talks and in his characteristic blustering called the NPA “terrorists”.  Picking up from there, his defense secretary declared an “all-out war” against the NPA, egregiously tagging the NPA as “terrorists no different from the Abu Sayyaf”.

 

Back-channel talks

Within three weeks Duterte walked back on his cancellation of the peace talks, taking recourse in back-channel talks towards continuing the formal negotiations.  Perplexingly, he didn’t rescind the Defense Department’s all-out war declaration.  He even egged on the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) to use all their assets and “flatten the hills” (the presumed redoubts of the NPA) through aerial bombings and artillery bombardments.

That was not all he failed or opted not to do before the fourth round of negotiations began in April.  During the March 11 back-channel talks, the two parties agreed that upon resuming the cancelled negotiations each side would issue simultaneous and reciprocal unilateral ceasefire declarations. But according to his defense secretary, Duterte didn’t order the issuance of the GRP declaration.  Hence the NPA had no choice but to engage in self-defense and counter-offensives.

Thus the all-out war has continued to this day. And aerial bombings plus ground artillery barrages have become a feature of the state counterinsurgency forces’ mode of combat. This has caused recurrent large-scale evacuations of rural communities targeted by the bombings in Mindanao and other parts of the country. (Daily air bombings have also punctuated the AFP operations against the Maute group in Marawi City for more than three months now.)

We know who are the war hawks and main peace saboteurs:  Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, and other government officials in the Duterte Cabinet so-called security cluster. They have sustained black propaganda, aimed at discrediting the Red Fighters, casting doubt on the sincerity of the revolutionary forces in the peace negotiations, and impugning the credentials of the NDFP panel.

 

Fourth round of talks

The cabinet security cluster’s intervention delayed for two days the opening ceremonies of the fourth round of negotiations, held in The Netherlands. There being no ceasefire in place, they pressed the GRP panel to insist on placing in the agenda the negotiation and signing of a prolonged indefinite bilateral or joint ceasefire agreement ahead of the scheduled negotiations on a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). The NDFP panel rejected the proposal, saying it violates the previously signed agreements both panels had reaffirmed and agreed to comply with, foremost the four-point agenda set by The Hague Joint Declaration (1992), and the Joint Agreement on the Sequence, Formation and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (1995).

Nonetheless, the fourth round of negotiations concluded with positive results.

The two panels skirted the threatening impasse by crafting and signing an Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire, which provides that the guidelines and ground rules for implementation will be worked on by the panels’ respective ceasefire committees “in-between formal talks”.  No ceasefire can take effect until after the guidelines and implementing rules have been finalized, signed by the panels and approved by the principals of both parties.

Meantime, the reciprocal working committees on the CASER firmed up their agreement that distribution of land to landless farmers and farm workers for free is “the basic principle of agrarian reform”. (Agreement in principle on this matter was arrived at in the third round of talks.)

For the records, presidential peace adviser Jesus G. Dureza hailed the fourth round as “the farthest point we have already achieved in our negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF”.  And he stated that in his formal statement at the opening ceremonies.

But the cabinet security cluster didn’t find the agreement on an interim ceasefire suitable to them. At the scheduled fifth round of negotiations in May, they pressed on with their original proposal that the NDFP definitively had rejected.  Not only that.  They demanded that the CPP recall its order to the NPA for intensified tactical offensives against state security forces to manifest its opposition to Duterte’s May 23 declaration of martial law and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao — which targeted the “dismantling” of the NPA.

 

GRP pulls out

Buckling to such pressure, the GRP panel announced it would not participate in the fifth round. That was a bad move—made worse by Duterte’s warning the NDFP consultants then in The Netherlands not to return to Manila as he would have them incarcerated. For a number of days both the GRP and NDFP delegations were stuck at the hotel venue, holding ad-hoc unilateral meetings, and taking walks in between free meals courtesy of the Royal Norwegian Government. Third party facilitator Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum tried, in vain, various means to get the two panels, or the reciprocal working committees, to sit down together even informally and discuss matters of mutual concern.

Of course, the peace saboteurs succeeded in obstructing the progress of the negotiations on the CASER because President Duterte permitted their scheming. He wanted to assuage the war hawks bent on wangling a prolonged bilateral ceasefire as a means to stanch the sustained growth in strength of the revolutionary forces, dreaming of pushing the latter ultimately into capitulation and pacification, as has happened in the cases of many peace agreements in other parts of the world.

The NDFP has made it clear it’s fully aware of the war hawks’ capitulation-pacification trap and does not wish to fall into it. Besides, putting in place a prolonged and indefinite ceasefire agreement before there are substantive agreements on social, economic, political and constitutional reforms, it emphasizes, will betray the trust of the oppressed and exploited masses, the intended prime beneficiaries of such reforms.

Similarly, Duterte wanted to placate the neoliberal clique composing his economic managers and the pro-imperialists in various government offices. They make no bones about their opposition to the social and economic reforms that are moving towards adoption in the peace negotiations—particularly the basic concepts and ramifications of a genuine agrarian reform program and rural development (ARRD) and of national industrialization and economic development (NIED).

Duterte made the hollow excuse that he has to consult many advisers, particularly the military — which he has been pampering with financial and other incentives. He claimed that he has no control on everything within his vast sphere of authority.   Thus he has become mum on his publicly-repeated commitment to accelerate and complete the peace negotiations on substantive reforms. Worse, he has reneged on his offer of amnesty for the 400 political prisoners identified in a list submitted by the NDFP panel.

Ironically, the President hems and haws just as the talks are beginning to produce results that open up opportunities for his “government of change” and the NDFP to work together in improving the dire living conditions of the people, particularly of the majority poor, which he has vowed to ameliorate.

In July, President Duterte had cancelled the back-channel talks between the two panel heads and their working teams on what should be in the agenda of the fifth round of formal negotiations, tentatively set in the latter part of August.

 

No mood for talks

In a long adlib portion of his second state-of-the-nation address, Duterte said he was no longer in the mood to talk peace with the Left.  He let out his recrimination over the NPA’s continued attacks on government forces and installations after he had declared martial law in Mindanao. Exaggerating an incident in Arakan, North Cotabato on July 20, he publicly claims the NPA planned to ambush him in one of his land travels through the region. “How can we talk when you’re ambushing me!” he blustered.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año

Of course, there was no such plan to ambush the President.  What actually happened was that the NPA had set up a checkpoint in Arakan to deliver a message: that under martial law, the NPA can set a checkpoint in an area it chooses along the highway, as it has been doing for years.

Coincidentally, two unmarked vehicles that the sentries had stopped to check on turned out to belong to the Presidential Security Group. When the driver of the first car sensed the odd situation, he sped through the checkpoint. In quick reaction, the Red fighters shot its rear wheels stopping the vehicle.  The second car also sped past the checkpoint.  Although it managed to get away, it met with a volley of gunfire that wounded four of the men on board.  After a while, the NPA unit left the area without harming the men who locked themselves inside the stalled PSG vehicle.

 

Will the peace talks continue?  

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Thus far the GRP has not made a formal written notification to the NDFP terminating the JASIG, which in effect would also terminate the peace talks.  The protocol calls for the NDFP to acknowledge the notice of termination, which would take effect 30 days after the acknowledgment.

Meantime, all the NDFP consultants “stranded” in The Netherlands to evade arrest have safely returned to the Philippines. However, the gung-ho solicitor general (the government’s chief lawyer) has filed a court petition calling for the cancellation of their bail to enable the police to re-arrest them. Thus far no further legal action has been announced.

Just before the solgen’s precipitate move, another small window was opened.  Ten of 19 convicted political prisoners were freed

NSC Director General Hermogenes Esperon, Jr.

via conditional presidential pardon, including one of three NDFP consultants. The 19 had been convicted of trumped-up common crime charges and were already recommended for conditional pardon.  Peace advocates are pushing for the release of more political prisoners to improve the chances of continuing the peace talks.

During the waiting period, bilateral discussions on the CASER have continued in Manila. The bilateral teams formed to help reconcile contentious provisions in the GRP and the NDFP drafts of the CASER recently held a three-day working meeting.  The meeting has achieved consensus on many aspects of agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD), including the scope and coverage, disposition of land, and modes of compensation to landowners. They are expected to submit recommendations to their respective reciprocal working committees, which can help accelerate the formal negotiations on the CASER.

As matters stand, it’s obvious that the interruptions of the peace negotiations caused by the ceasefire imbroglio since February have put in jeopardy the mutually-targeted completion of the CASER negotiations before the end of 2017. At best, in the next formal negotiation rounds the panels can target the completion of a partial agreement on agrarian reform and rural development.

But that can happen only if the GRP relents on pushing ahead negotiations on a prolonged bilateral or joint ceasefire.

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