April 03, 2013

The "special track" falters

The Aquino government’s fixation with getting an open-ended ceasefire declaration from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) sans basic reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict is proving to be the underlying stumbling block to resumption of the peace talks between the two parties.

The GPH says armed conflict is the cause of poverty, underdevelopment and violence inflicted on the civilian population.  Therefore, the GPH insists on the stilling of guns as the be-all and end-all of the peace negotiations. This is what they mean when they speak of the “GPH commitment to a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict”:  getting the revolutionary forces to stop fighting, to surrender, on the negotiating table.

The NDFP says the armed struggle is being waged as a defense of the people who are fighting for their rights and future against the armed might of a state controlled by the ruling economic and political elite. The long-standing, pervasive and intolerable social iniquities and injustice bearing down on the majority of the people are the real causes or roots of the armed conflict.

The NDFP maintains that these roots must be addressed first, through crucial reforms contained in binding agreements between the GPH and the NDFP. These are to be negotiated and implemented step-by-step -- human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms -- before the last agenda, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

The NDFP does not consider ceasefires as anathema.  Apart from the yearly nationwide Christmas and New Year ceasefires declared by the CPP-NPA, short-term, partial and localized ceasefires have often been unilaterally declared in response to natural calamities or other dire situations facing the masses wherein NPA fighters are enjoined to prioritize rescue, relief and rehabilitation activities.

The NDFP negotiating panel has also bent over backwards in recommending longer ceasefires, like the one from December 20, 2012 to January 15, 2013, as a goodwill measure, in order to pave the way for progress in the talks.

But open-ended multiple ceasefires are another thing.  In 1986, the revolutionary forces entered into a long-term ceasefire with the GPH during the Cory Aquino administration.  Instead of being able to negotiate in earnest on substantial agenda, the talks were mired in discussions on the mechanics of monitoring and by accusations and counter-accusations on both sides regarding ceasefire violations.  Moreover, the NDFP suffered scores of arrests, disappearances and deaths of their personnel who surfaced for the talks apart from unwittingly exposing hundreds more to surveillance and intelligence gathering by the military.

Since 2005, in order to counter the GPH propensity for putting the cart before the horse, i.e. pushing for  indefinite and prolonged ceasefires even before talks on socio-economic reforms could get under way, the NDFP propounded to the GPH a “truce and alliance” embodied in the proposed ten-point  “Concise Agreement for an Immediate Just Peace”.  The GPH completely ignored this proposal. 

In 2011, the NDFP reiterated its offer to President Benigno C. Aquino III.

This is an offer of a truce, by definition a temporary cessation or suspension of hostilities by agreement of the opposing sides, and an alliance with the GPH, based on a solemn agreement to put in place major social, economic and political reforms demanded by the people.

It would be negotiated in a “special track”, distinct from, parallel to, but not entirely separate from nor replacing the regular track of the GPH-NDFP negotiations with its existing bilaterally-agreed framework and agenda, inked agreements and established protocols and procedures.

Such a special track has the potential of leapfrogging the obstacles bedevilling and miring the regular track.  It is a challenge to the GPH to think outside the box and creatively come up with ways to move the peace talks forward.

President Aquino sent his National Political Adviser Ronald Llamas to engage the NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison in talks regarding the NDFP proposal.  In November 2012, in the presence of the third party facilitator from the Royal Norwegian Government, Mr. Llamas proposed that a meeting of the GPH President and Prof. Sison as founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) be held in Hanoi City in early 2013.  It would be the “first historic moment” akin to the Aquino-Murad meeting in Tokyo in August 2011(for the GPH-MILF peace talks) that would send a strong signal regarding each side’s commitment to a negotiated resolution of the armed conflict.

Thereafter the two sides engaged in the special track through “special representatives” notably for the GPH, Sec. Llamas and GPH peace panel head Atty. Alex Padilla; for the NDFP, Prof, Sison and NDFP panel head Luis Jalandoni.  They had two meetings in December 2012 and February 2013 whereupon the GPH and NDFP exchanged their drafts of a common declaration.

The NDFP proposed a joint “General Declaration for National Unity and a Just Peace” that would contain the main points on which the “truce and alliance” would be anchored. The NDFP’s draft included five points: 1) Immediately constitute and put into operation the Committee of National Unity, Peace and Development to ... realize and promote the cooperation of the GPH and the NDFP in connection with the truce; 2) Upholding national independence, democracy and human rights; 3) Agrarian reform and national industrialization; 4) Truce and redisposition of forces.

The GPH submitted a draft that seemingly covered the same points but again placed at the top of their draft that the two parties commit to “(i)mmediately put into effect simultaneous unilateral and indefinite ceasefires” and thereafter “agree to work for the progression of these unilateral ceasefires into a permanent one.”

Given the clearly disparate points of view at loggerheads over the common declaration, it stands to reason that the special track would require more time and work to arrive at something both sides would agree to.  Meanwhile the immediate agenda for the February meeting should have been preparations for the proposed “first historic moment” or the Aquino-Sison meeting in Hanoi in 2013. 

The NDFP had prepared a Draft Communiqué for the Hanoi Meeting but the GPH side refused to discuss this stating that they did not have the mandate to do so.  It then became clear that the sole purpose of the GPH “special representatives” was to demand and receive the NDFP’s concurrence with the GPH version of the General Declaration, which would have amounted to a negotiated surrender.

The special track has been brought once more to a predictable impasse over the question of ceasefire thus dangerously setting it up to fail just as the regular track of the peace negotiations appears to be set up to fail with the GPH refusing to honor and implement previous agreements while all the while demanding indefinite and prolonged ceasefires before and during the talks.

Thus far, the GPH appears to have succeeded in pulling the special track into the same rut as the regular track, and derailing the negotiations on reforms that would address the roots of the armed conflict.  In blocking the proposal for a truce and alliance, which is by far superior to and more desirable than the GPH proposal for indefinite, unilateral ceasefires, the GPH betrays its real objective:  “peace” without reforms, “peace” without justice. #

Published in Business World
5-6 April 2013


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