October 18, 2007

Audacious and praiseworthy

The Joint Statement of Senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) negotiating panel on the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP opens up a new channel for the stalled talks to move forward at a time when all avenues seemed to have been shut as a result of the arrest of Chief NDFP Political Consultant Professor Jose Ma. Sison and the raids on NDFP office and residences by Dutch authorities last August 28.

Senator Madrigal deserves recognition for thinking out of the box; that is, breaking out of the constraints of a militarist mindset and the narrow political exigencies that have so far characterized the approach of de facto President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to peace negotiations with the communist-led revolutionary movement.

The Senate Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation is headed by Ms. Madrigal. If reports are accurate, there were apparently no takers for the committee aside from her. Unlike the Blue Ribbon Committee whose chairmanship was stiffly contested by administration Senator “Joker” Arroyo and opposition stalwarts Senators “Ping” Lacson and Allan Peter Cayetano, the Peace Committee is not a “sexy” committee that would afford much opportunity for putting its chair in the media limelight.

Ms. Madrigal has expanded her room for maneuver as a legislator by maximizing the Peace Committee’s potential in determining the real reasons for the lack of progress in the talks under the Arroyo administration, in involving the most affected and concerned sectors of society and in demonstrating the way towards resuming the formal talks “during or after the term of the Arroyo regime”.

The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel and Mrs. Arroyo have abdicated their role and even acted contrary to their mandate as negotiators and principal by wantonly violating earlier agreements such as the Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and willfully setting up one obstacle after another to the talks resumption.

In a follow-through to the Joint Statement, Luis Jalandoni of the NDFP Negotiating Panel lists the impediments the Arroyo regime, in connivance with the US and now the Dutch government, have created since 2001, when it started using the "terrorist" tag as leverage to pressure the NDFP into a negotiated capituation, to the recent arrest of Mr. Sison.

Mr. Jalandoni clarifies, “Doing away with such impediments is not a precondition but a matter of compliance with existing agreements of the GRP and NDFP. If the Arroyo regime persists in keeping the impediments, preparations can still be made for clearing the way for the peace negotiations after the current regime is changed.”

Ms. Madrigal, as a well-placed senator of this republic, and the NDFP negotiating panel have demonstrated both the good will and the determination to pick up the pieces of the broken-down peace talks and salvage what has been achieved so far. This consists of ten agreements including the landmark Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee or JMC authorized by both parties and recognized by the Norwegian government as Third Party Facilitator to oversee the implementation of CARHRIHL and discussions on each side’s draft of socio-economic reforms (SER) that are needed to address the underlying causes of the armed conflict.

The wisdom of Ms. Madrigal’s audacious move lies in (1) her recognition that the current militarist line of the GRP is not only a dead end but will further escalate the armed confrontation with the New People’s Army (2) the only way to genuine peace is by seriously addressing the roots of the armed conflict and (3) in concrete terms, this means continuing to adhere to the Hague Joint Declaration and other agreements that were painstakingly negotiated and eventually inked by the two sides.

The succeeding moves of the Senate Peace Committee have the potential to shatter the prevailing cynicism about the peace negotiations that has been created by the false notions cultivated by Mrs. Arroyo and other hawks that predominate in the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS). They have misrepresented peace talks as merely the “cessation of hostilities” or ceasefire without addressing much less ensuring the institution of necessary comprehensive and basic reforms that will bring about a truly just and lasting peace.

Coming as it does from the government, albeit the legislative and not the executive department, the Senate Peace Committee’s initiative has the necessary modicum of credence and thus cannot just be dismissed by the Arroyo administration as a mere rebel ploy. In fact, Ms. Madrigal’s bold act has put Malacanang’s sincerity about the peace process to the test.

More importantly, it can demonstrate what is in the realm of the possible regarding the peace negotiations: how the talks can advance towards agreements that can bring about actual benefits to the people and the country, immediately and in the long-term, all the way to reaching a negotiated political settlement that can end bring an end to the war. Conversely, it will demonstrate how foolish is the current administration's policy and practice in practically scuttling the negotiations with the connivance of interfering foreign governments, specifically, that of the United States and the Netherlands.

The Peace Committee can investigate and determine whether the GRP’s refusal to convene the JMC is valid or not and help find ways to address the ongoing gross human rights violations such as the massive displacement of civilian communities, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture of suspects in accordance with CARHRIHL even while the formal talks have not resumed.

It can initiate wide-ranging consultations with various sectors, especially the basic sectors of peasants, workers and low-income earning families who constitute the largest percentage of population and who are seldom heard in the national discourse on the fundamental problems of Philippine society.

It can also investigate the reasons underlying the delays, impasses and breakdown of formal talks by examining the reasons given by both sides and getting the views of the Third Party Facilitator and various peace advocates.

The Madrigal opening move is pregnant with positive developments that auger well for the peace process, a process that has been almost criminally aborted by the hard-line and foolhardy positioning of Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of war mongers.

This bold initiative deserves the wholehearted support and unstinting cooperation of all Filipinos who seriously want a just and enduring solution to the armed conflicts in our strife-torn land. ###


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