August 18, 2011

Poisoning the air

Of late the Aquino government’s peace panel negotiating with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has aggressively stepped up its propaganda offensive against the NDFP and the latter’s main component organizations, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP/NPA).

This is a departure from the enlightened practice of previous panels (both GPH and NDFP) to refrain from acerbic or heated public exchanges, especially in the mass media, at crucial junctures such as before and after formal talks. It also stands in contrast to the conduct of the GPH panel negotiating with the MILF, which has prudently refrained from ventilating in public whatever problems it may have with the MILF and its armed groups.

The GPH has been shrill in demanding that the NDFP prove its “sincerity” and “seriousness” in the peace negotiations. No less than President Benigno Aquino and GPH Panel Chair Atty. Alex Padilla have echoed what only the AFP-PNP spokespersons and other hawks in government have been wont to raise ad nauseam whenever prospects for formal talks improve.

The current word war between the GPH and the NDFP stems from the former’s lack of compliance with the agreement to release the remaining NDFP consultants and personnel involved in the peace negotiations from detention. This has in fact resulted in the postponement of the second round of formal talks which were originally scheduled for June 2011.

The heated exchange has spilled over to the New People’s Army’s detention of four BJMP guards captured in what the NDFP considers a legitimate military operation and a mayor and his two bodyguards arrested by the NPA to face charges in a People's Court. The former have been granted the status of “prisoners-of-war” in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, to which the NDFP has declared its adherence, while the latter are reportedly undergoing investigation by a People’s Court for their “culpability with respect to charges of involvement in armed operations of the AFP, PNP and other armed units of the GPH against the NPA and the local population".

In attempting to draw attention away from its obligation to release most if not all JASIG-protected persons before the next round of formal talks and instead put the NDFP in a bad light, the GPH muddles the issues, poisons the air and in effect hampers the process of getting the negotiations back on track.

Mr. Padilla asserts, “The government is under no obligation to release all detainees as requested by NDF. What was stated in the Oslo Joint Statement is that the government will work for their release, meaning, subject to verification and after undergoing due process.”

According to the 18 January 2011 Joint Communiqué signed by the Parties in Oslo: “The GPH Panel agreed to work for the expeditious release (underscoring ours) of detained NDFP consultants and other JASIG protected persons in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and in the spirit of goodwill.”

Mr. Padilla's statement obscures the fact that (1) at least eight of these detainees have been acknowledged by the previous GPH panel as JASIG-protected persons, (2) many of the consultants were arrested after the Arroyo regime had unilaterally suspended the JASIG in violation of the provisions of JASIG. (3) these consultants, like most political prisoners, are falsely charged with criminal offenses based on fabricated evidences, and (3) at least one, Tirso Alcantara, is publicly known to be involved in the peace negotiations and was arrested and detained after the GPH had declared its restoration of JASIG.

Now Mr. Padilla has the effrontery to question the NDFP’s “sincerity” when the latter seeks postponement of talks in order to give the GPH time to act in accordance with its word.

The GPH Panel goes on to declare that the NDFP cannot act like a state or a belligerent force because no one has accorded it that status. But no amount of declaration or denial by the GPH can reverse the fact that the NDFP wields political authority over a sizable territory with a significant population and responsibly commands an armed force that adheres to international law.

The CPP-NPA has, in the course of its armed revolutionary struggle against the GPH, gained sufficient political and military strength and popular mass support in order to seize captives in battle, be they military, paramilitary or police personnel, who are eventually accorded by the CPP-NPA-NDFP the status of prisoners of war.

They also undertake peacekeeping operations in areas that they have under their control to the extent that they can put under detention government officials who are alleged to have committed crimes against the people and try them in their revolutionary courts.

This is something the GPH can neither deny, discount nor denounce away. It is par for the course in a situation of unabated armed conflict where the revolutionary forces under the umbrella of the NDFP are able to operate to a significant extent as a “shadow government”.

And this is precisely part of the reason why the GPH is impelled to enter into peace negotiations with the NDFP in the first place: their forces and the constituency they represent are sizeable, irrepressible and, most importantly, are fighting for a rationale and viable political program that is a serious challenge to the existing order that the GPH upholds and protects.

The NDFP has assured the GPH that the NPA has a proven track record of treating its POWs “in accordance with the 1969 Basic Rules of the New People's Army, international humanitarian law, the CARHRIHL and within its capabilities and circumstances” and cites former POWs themselves and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as witness to this.

The CPP explains: “By according POW status to the four (BJMP) personnel, the NPA custodial unit is required by international protocols to ensure their health and welfare, respect their democratic rights, ensure communication with their families and work for their eventual release with the help of third party interceders.”

It would seem that the release of the four is only a matter of time and ensuring proper security arrangements. To this end, the facilitating role of the ICRC, trustworthy personages from the churches, national and local government and peace advocacy groups must be encouraged.

As to Lingig town Mayor Henry Dano and his two bodyguards, the CPP said that they are “presumed innocent until proven guilty…have the right to counsel and enjoy other basic legal rights as provided for in the Rules on Establishing the People’s Democratic Government.” The NDFP and NPA's declarations could be taken as an assurance that they will keep to their word or risk public censure.

Mr. Padilla may appear to be a skillful and effective propagandist for the GPH but his repeatedly calling to question the “sincerity” of the NDFP and ventilating in public issues that are properly addressed across the negotiating table only serves to obstruct, rather than pave the way, towards the presumed mutual objective of advancing the peace negotiations.

Each party must be held to its own word, either by its public pronouncements or its signature on bilateral agreements, about wanting to negotiate, implement agreements, and push the negotiations forward to as far as it can go.

In the current snag in the GPH-NDFP peace talks, the GPH by its puerile double talk is clearly the party responsible for holding up if not threatening the scuttling of the peace talks. #

Published in Business World
19-20 August 2011


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