In marked contrast to the positive and hopeful outcome of the GPH-NDFP peace talks that resumed in February of this year, an impasse has now indefinitely delayed the holding of the second round of formal talks originally scheduled for June.
What has led to this impasse and how can it be overcome?
The GPH fired the opening salvoes with its chief negotiator Atty. Alexander Padilla accusing the NDFP of setting “preconditions” for the second round of talks, specifically, the release of all or most of 17 NDFP consultants protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) before the formal talks resume. He and presidential spokesperson Lacierda claimed that the GPH was under no obligation to release said consultants since these constituted mere “confidence-building measures” that the GPH could unilaterally choose not to undertake.
The NDFP countered that these releases are part of what was agreed upon in the initial round of talks; it is clearly stated in the February 21, 2011 Joint Statement that the GPH would work for the expeditious release "before the second round of formal talks, subject to verification as provided in the JASIG Supplemental Agreement dated June 26, 1996, or on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons (underscoring ours)".
The NDFP underscored that it was only for the second time in the history of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations that it had asked for a postponement of the formal talks to allow the GPH time “to fulfill its obligations and comply with solemn agreements”.
More ominously, Mr. Padilla recently announced that the JASIG is “inoperative” and that “they (rebels) cannot cite it now.” The NDFP had allegedly violated JASIG by depositing encrypted electronic copies of the photographs of the NDFP consultants along with their assumed names instead of actual photographs in a designated bank safety deposit box in The Netherlands.
The NDFP, in the presence of GPH representatives and Norwegian Facilitator, had been unable to open the encrypted files. The NDFP attributed this to the likelihood that the decryption keys may have been corrupted since these were seized by the Dutch government when the NDFP office and residences of NDFP leaders and staffers were simultaneously raided on August 28, 2007. Furthermore, only 4 out 5 diskettes containing the keys were returned to the NDFP.
As a consequence, additional verification utilizing the said photos can not be resorted to at this time until the NDFP is able to reconstruct its list of holders of “documents of identification”.
The NDFP asserts that there is no provision in JASIG that absolutely requires the deposit of hard copies of the photos. As a security measure, the NDFP had to transport these highly sensitive and otherwise incriminating files as encrypted soft copies so as to avoid their being accessed by unauthorized persons and possibly used to cause the arrest or worse, the extra judicial killing, of said DI holders.
NDFP legal counsels further point to well established legal jurisprudence that electronic and encrypted documents are deemed identical to and of the same value as the documents themselves.
Thus the GPH accusation that the NDFP had violated JASIG has no leg to stand on.
The Philippine Peace Center recalls that “in practice, since 1995, the GRP (now GPH) and the NDFP have been able to determine or agree on the accreditation of persons arrested and detained by the GPH and effect their release without having to open the safety deposit box containing the photographs.” The five NDFP consultants released since January are the latest concrete examples of these. Ergo the resort to such verification is also not an absolute necessity and itself is subject to the mutual decision of both parties.
In truth it is the GPH that grossly violates JASIG by Mr. Padilla’s one-sided and arbitrary pronouncement that JASIG is “inoperative”. JASIG provides that only the principals of either side may terminate the agreement by issuing a notice 30 days in advance before such termination takes effect. This stands to reason to allow all those involved in the peace negotiations time to secure themselves before JASIG loses its effectiveness.
The picture that emerges is that the GPH is utilizing all sorts of excuses and ruses in order to renege on its obligation to release all or most of the previously identified NDFP consultants before talks resume. We can only surmise that the hardliners have gained the upper hand on the GPH side and wish to use these political prisoners as leverage for bargaining in the talks.
Since it is unimaginable that the GPH peace panel could be ignorant of JASIG provisions, it also appears now that the seemingly “foolish” statements of Mr. Padilla may actually be calculated to cause a collapse of the peace talks while sticking the blame on the NDFP.
From numerous public statements on both sides, we are aware that the NDFP has forwarded to President Benigno Aquino III a bold proposal that could cut short the time for arriving at a comprehensive political settlement with the NDFP.
In a nutshell, the NDFP is offering a “truce and alliance” with the GPH. The proposal was first issued in August 2005 in the form of a "Concise Agreement for an Immediate and Just Peace" as a counterproposal to persistent GPH demands for an indefinite ceasefire for the entire duration of the talks. While it sounds like a watered down version of the NDFP Programme, a close study shows it is at the same time basically consistent with and echoes principles enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.
In a statement issued in August 27, 2009, the NDFP describes the proposed agreement as "statements of principles and policies in the national and democratic interest of the Filipino people". The statement declared, "The civil war ends and a just peace begins as soon as the GRP co-signs this 10-point concise but comprehensive peace agreement with the NDFP. Alliance and truce become the modus vivendi of the GRP and the NDFP."
This offer was reiterated last January in a discreet letter to Mr. Aquino, with further elaboration on concrete immediately doable measures including new political instruments such as a Council of Peace and Development, cooperation in undertaking industrial projects, offering to buy big landholdings so that landlords may invest into these industrial projects, the New People’s Army being assigned to "guard the environment and industrial projects", etc.
Could it be that this out-of-the-box proposal from the NDFP is pulling the rug from under the GPH in the sense that it has the real potential to excite and draw support from a wide array of classes and sectors including sections of the ruling elite who are interested in putting an end to the armed conflict, the sooner the better?
Does the GPH find itself perplexed and unable to respond to this challenge from the NDFP knowing full well that not doing so could make it the spoiler or the villain in the peace process. This would be so both in the eyes of the Filipino people as well as the international community supporting the fruitful end result of the peace negotiations.
If such is the case, peace advocates need to intervene and help avert the collapse of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. They must demand and help see to it that the bilateral agreements are respected and complied with. They must work double time in exposing not only the hard-line yet untenable positions of the GPH in the peace negotiations but also its short-sighted, cowardly and doomed-to-fail approach amply demonstrated and ably executed by the GPH peace panel through its voluble chair, Mr. Padilla. #
Published in Business World
2-3 September 2011