March 14, 2013

Peace talks: frozen on its tracks

The GPH-MILF peace negotiations are seen to be moving forward at a fast clip with the Framework Agreement signed, negotiations on annexes ongoing and the composition of the Transition Commission finalized.  In stark contrast, the GPH-NDFP talks have been at a standstill not long after the formal talks were resumed two years ago, this time with the new Aquino government.

Recently the NDFP released a report on how a GPH-proposed “first historic moment”, wherein Pres. Aquino and Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairperson Jose Maria Sison were to meet in Hanoi ala the Aquino-Murad meeting in Japan, was scuttled by alleged government duplicity.  Malacañang has responded by denying there was ever such a “promise” or that Mr. Aquino’s special representative, Mr. Ronald Llamas, was ever authorized to make such a “promise”.  What, indeed, is going on?

Recall the handshakes and beaming smiles after the February 2011 formal talks in Oslo; the announcement of an accelerated timetable for negotiating the three remaining items on the substantive agenda most specially social and economic reforms; the flurry of public forums and meetings with peace advocates by both the GPH and NDFP representatives.  All these served to revive flagging interest and diminishing hope that a resolution to the intractable armed conflict could come about through a negotiated peace settlement between the two parties.

Not long after, another prolonged impasse.

The warning signs were evident at the close of the Oslo talks with the GPH placing on record its view that The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 was a “document of perpetual division” rather than a viable framework containing the goal of a just and lasting peace, mutually acceptable principles and the substantive agenda covering human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Among the GPH reservations to the Hague Joint Declaration appear to revolve around the phrase “no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations”.

The NDFP firmly and consistently asserts that this means neither side can impose its legal and constitutional framework on the other in the negotiations.  The CPP-NPA-NDFP, being a revolutionary formation waging armed struggle to overthrow what it deems to be an anti-people and anti-national state and install a regime of the opposite character and nature, cannot  allow itself to be subsumed by the GPH’s legal and constitutional framework since this is tantamount to capitulation.

On the other hand, the GPH insists that the NDFP submit to its legal and constitutional authority in word and deed, something that it has not been able to enforce in the battlefield nor in the “hearts and minds” of the revolutionary forces and their mass base.

This is the reason why both sides have zealously watched out for formulations in any of the joint statements, declarations or agreements that would grant such a submission of one party to the other.

Unfortunately, the GPH appears determined to derogate, set aside and even renege not only on The Hague Joint Declaration but other critical bilateral agreements such as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which constitute indispensable building blocks for the peace talks to continue unimpeded and arrive at solid agreements to resolve the underlying roots of the armed conflict.

The GPH claims that the JASIG is no longer in effect ever since the attempt to verify the Documents of Identification (DIs) of the detained NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons failed because the encrypted files of the DIs stored in the safety deposit box in The Netherlands could not be decrypted. The decrypting keys were apparently corrupted while in the possession of the Dutch police who had seized all the electronic files found in the raided offices and residences of the NDFP panel members, consultants and staff in August 2007.

The GPH refuses the NDFP’s recourse to reconstruct the DI list without advancing any practicable alternative.  Instead it accuses the NDFP of deviousness in using enciphered electronic copies of the DI list instead of unencrypted hard copies susceptible to unintended disclosure or espionage.  Thus the GPH displays its unreasonableness as well as its real intent, to put up obstacles to the resumption of the peace talks and putting it back on track.

The immediate effect is the GPH’s non-compliance with the agreement to release “most if not all” of the 17 detained NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons before the scheduled June 2011 formal talks.   That meant then a minimum of 9 out of 17 detained consultants.  As of  now only a minimum of three remain to be released for the formal talks to resume,  since six have been released, mostly on the merits of the case and not as a result of the agreement since  February  2011 .

An offer of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) to act as custodians for the NDFP consultants who can be released on recognizance (ROR) was effectively shot down by the GPH.  It set conditions that the PEPP deemed unreasonable and which eventually the consultants deemed unacceptable. The custodians must (1) guarantee that the released consultant “remains visibly aboveground”;  and  (2)  “visibly participates in the peace negotiations”; and (3)  the guarantor must be responsible for any and all actions of the released person.

The irrationality of these conditions is shown by the fact that  one of the consultants released in 2011 , Jaime Soledad,  remained aboveground but was  rearrested in May 2012;  while  early on,  Sotero Lllamas, who was very visibly aboveground and participating in the peace negotiations since his release in July 1996,  was assassinated  by suspected state security forces in April 2007

The GPH stance that the JASIG is not in effect has imperilled the entire negotiations itself by placing the NDFP panel members, staff and consultants and others who participate in activities related to the peace talks at the mercy of the GPH, vulnerable to surveillance, arrest, detention and prosecution at any time.

With the formal peace talks seriously stalled the NDFP attempted to go around the problem by pursuing a “special track”.  This, simply put, is an offer by the NDFP of truce that is by definition, a temporary cessation or suspension of hostilities by agreement of the opposing sides, and alliance with the GPH on the basis of a firm agreement to put in place major social, economic and political reforms demanded by the people.

Thereafter, formal peace negotiations or the “regular track” would flesh out and ink bilateral agreements on the remaining substantive agenda so as to arrive at a final peace agreement and a permanent cessation of hostilities. (Next week: The “special track” falters) #

Published in Business World
15-16 March 2013


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