The resumption of formal peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo from February 15-21 almost ended in a cliffhanger with the two sides unable to agree on certain key points in the Joint Statement well over the original 3pm timetable for the closing ceremonies. The Joint Statement was finalized at 7pm after more hard bargaining, with the two panels both keenly aware of the ominous implications of not coming up with one at the same time holding fast to what each side deemed to be non-negotiable positions.
It is no mean feat what with clear-cut agreements on steps to bring the negotiations forward. At the same time any impression created in the media by government press releases that the 18-month timetable for arriving at a final peace settlement is a shoo-in and that the NDFP has softened up and is willing to sign a peace accord short of ensuring that basic reforms are put into place must be corrected with a reality check.
The closing statements of the two negotiating panel heads indicate the difficulties that lie ahead as the negotiations hunker down to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the substantive points on socio-economic reforms and preparing the ground for talks on political and constitutional reforms while effecting the protection of JASIG for negotiators, their staff, consultants as well as other resource persons.
It is not just mistrust but the wide chasm that has to be bridged in perspectives, understanding of the problems, and preferred modes of resolution that will make arriving at agreements more difficult than the GPH panel seems to recognize and broadcast to the public.
As we see it, the 18-month timetable can only be achieved if the Aquino administration musters its political will to forge agreements that will resolve the roots of the armed conflict, including addressing the problem of landlessness, industrialization, US/foreign domination and control of the economy, etc.
In essence, these are agreements that will benefit the people as against the vested interests of those who are already in power and benefit the most from the iniquitous social and economic system.
If we understand correctly, the NDFP is prepared even now to enter into a “truce and alliance” with a government so long as it co-signs a concise agreement that upholds the national and democratic interests of the people, as culled from the common points in both the GPH constitution and the NDFP's 10-point program.
However government perspective appears to veer farther from “mutually acceptable principles including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice” as stated in The Hague Joint Declaration.
The GPH, while agreeing to jointly reaffirm The Hague Joint Declaration and all bilateral agreements previously entered into with NDFP, insisted on submitting its “separate and unilateral affirmation with qualifications” as some kind of framework for disagreement -- a wellspring for all kinds of future obstacles that the two panels will need to hurdle and could threaten to disrupt the 18-month timetable if not altogether render it impossible.
The NDFP was then compelled to register its rebuttal of the GPH's qualifications. It asserts that no matter how much the GPH argues that it is the only sovereign power, the reality of dual political power or authority in the Philippines can no longer be denied what with extensive guerilla zones governed by NDFP “organs of political power”. Moreover, the GPH has had to face the NDFP across the negotiating table de facto as an equal or else there could be no negotiations at all.
It has also been argued by the NDFP that the GPH's continual acquiescence to US and IMF-World Bank impositions, if not subservience to foreign interests, makes a mockery of its claims of being the sole sovereign power.
The inclusion of national sovereignty as a mutually acceptable framework and foundation principle for the talks was meant to establish and enhance an essential basis of unity and acknowledge that both Parties hold this principle as sacrosanct.
It is thus grossly unfortunate that the new GPH panel has chosen to persist on the derogation of what was meant to be an essential anchor for the talks by implying that The Hague Joint Declaration is a source of “perpetual division”.
All this can be explained by the reality that the GPH, as its panel chair reminds us, is not a monolithic creature and cannot be expected to be solidly behind the peace negotiations with the NDFP, much less the goal of forging a political settlement with it. Aside from, or more important than having to deal with the militarists and the powerful elite who benefit tremendously from the iniquities of the current ruling system, the GPH must contend with foreign, mainly US, imperialist interests.
We shall see in the coming months whether or not the GPH under President Noynoy Aquino would or could stand up to such powerful pressures or find ways of circumventing them if it were to join the NDFP as a partner in addressing the roots of the armed conflict in order to reach an enduring political settlement that would lead to a just and lasting peace.
It is deja vu, not quite apparent but very real, as the nation celebrates the fall of a hated dictator and the ascension to the presidency of a most popular widow. The parallel does not end with the replacement of an unpopular leader by the widow's son 25 years later.
Just as President Cory was faced then with the opportunity to reverse decades of neocolonial and anti-people state policies that served the interests of big landlord and compradors collaborating with foreign capital, so now Pres. Noynoy is facing the real possibility of doing so and negotiating a truce leading to the end of decades of civil war.
The GPH call for support from the people is a positive step but there is a lot more to be done, beyond marching in peace processions, towards building a potent and vibrant peace constituency that could serve this end.
Both the GPH and NDFP must step up their information and peace education efforts to involve the broadest and largest sections of the population in the discourses on social and economic reforms, and eventually, on political and constitutional reforms.
It is only through the people’s support that the two Parties can draw the strength needed to withstand all negative pressures, ensure the efficacy of bilateral agreements and the successful end-result of the peace negotiations. In the final analysis, that is the meaning of the people being the true sovereign power, a fact which neither side disputes.
Difficult and daunting as it is, forging and signing a peace agreement is by itself not the guarantee that peace would reign in our land. That peace agreement must be an expression of the people's will and uphold their interests if it is to lead to the fruition of their long-held aspirations. #
Published in Business World
25-26 February 2011