May 23, 2013

Precondition or non-compliance

While the May 13 elections and its aftermath hugged the headlines of the mainstream press and much of the attention of the general public, those who are committed to seeking peaceful avenues for resolving armed conflict in the country have been quietly meeting and crafting their positions on the current serious and prolonged impasse in peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Peace advocates and church leaders have expressed a range of negative reactions - from “sadness” and “concern” to “disappointment” and “outrage” - to the GPH announcement that talks with the NDFP have virtually collapsed, and that they are considering taking a "new approach" to the peace process.

In response to GPH peace panel head Atty. Alex Padilla’s statement that the GPH “cannot wait forever for the other side if they continually refuse to go back to the negotiating table without preconditions ... such as the release of their detained consultants”, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) has this to say: “Our appeal for government to release the detained NDFP consultants is not in support of any ‘pre-condition’ but ‘on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons’ to enable the formal talks to resume as articulated in the Oslo Joint Statement of 21 February 2011 by both Parties.”

The PEPP has been tirelessly working with both sides to bring about the release from GPH detention of at least three of the NDFP “peace consultants”.  This is the only remaining obstacle to the resumption of formal peace negotiations after the first round of successful talks held in February 2011under the aegis of the new Aquino government. Contrary to the GPH position that the NDFP’s supposed insistence on such releases constitutes a “precondition”, the PEPP views the matter simply as compliance by the GPH to what it had agreed to.

Another faith-based peace advocates network, the Pilgrims for Peace straightforwardly asked, “(I)f the GPH will not honor the agreements that they have made thus far in peace talks with the NDFP, how can they be trusted to honor subsequent major  agreements, especially in systemic reforms needed to build a just and lasting peace?”
Compliance with agreements is not only a reasonable and just demand, it is imperative to any negotiations, be it political, financial, e.g. contracts, or even personal, e.g. marriage.

Pilgrims underscores the fact that the second substantive agenda, socio-economic reforms (SER), was supposed to have been tackled just months after the 2011 formal peace talks in accord with, in Mr. Padilla’s own words, a “time-bound” and “agenda-bound” agreement that both sides had committed to.  This is patently contrary to allegations by Mr. Padilla that the NDFP had been dragging its feet on negotiating the SER.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) took exception to Mr. Padilla’s statement that “nothing happened in the last 27 years”, saying that he “fails to take into account achievements of the peace negotiations”.  The first substantive agenda of the 1992 The Hague Joint Declaration has already resulted in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

According to Pilgrims, “This landmark agreement includes a Joint Monitoring Committee to address human rights violations of either party; however, the CARHRIHL Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) has not been convening because of the Philippine government’s insistence that it can only meet when there are on-going formal talks, contrary to the provisions of CARHRIHL.”

This belies the statement of OPAPP Secretary Deles and Mr. Padilla that the peace negotiations had not had any impact “on the ground”.  Both sides had already filed hundreds of complaints of violations and human rights victims had done the same but investigations are impeded by GPH refusal for the JMC to meet and properly address the complaints jointly so that these can be acted upon.

In effect, the CARHRIHL’s implementation, for the good of the communities affected by the armed conflict as well as other victims of human rights violations, is being held hostage by the twists and turns of the peace talks, including unfortunately, prolonged deadlocks.

The above statements show that the peace advocates and church leaders are able to see through the GPH attempt to blame the NDFP for the delays, impasses and eventual breakdown of the talks.  They can see how the GPH is confusing the issues and twisting the truth when it misrepresents the NDFP's demand for compliance with agreements as preconditions to the holding of talks.  Instead, they perceive the GPH as the one presenting preconditions and lacking the political will to comply with agreements it has signed and pursue the negotiations toward ending the armed conflict by addressing and resolving its root causes.

In fact, it has been the GPH that has been setting preconditions to the resumption of formal talks, mainly that of an indefinite and prolonged ceasefire for the duration of the negotiations. This in itself is a violation of the Hague Joint Declaration which says that "no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations”.  The NDFP has always taken the position that a ceasefire should be the result of negotiations and not a precondition to it, and previous GPH panels before Mr. Padilla's have accepted this position. Only in this way have the peace negotiations been able to move forward in the past.

What the GPH has called preconditions by the NDFP (release of detained consultants, reconstitution of JASIG, investigation of extrajudicial killings, etc) are in fact commitments or obligations by the GPH as per agreements that it needs to comply with. Or, in the case of the “special track”, Mr. Padilla mislabels as preconditions what are clearly proposals for discussion and negotiation (e.g.  discontinuing such anti-people GPH programs such as the Conditional Cash Transfer, PAMANA and Oplan Bayanihan).

In this light, Pilgrims for Peace Co-Chairperson, Bsp. Deogracias Iñiguez astutely comments, “As (peace) talks tried to speak to the root causes of the armed conflict, we observe that talks about these reforms will go against the interests of those who want to maintain the status quo where only foreign corporations and the local elite prosper while the majority of people languish in poverty ... The government’s stand on economic sovereignty may more correctly be described as the government reality of economic dependence.”

As to the “new approach” the GPH is developing in place of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, it must be made clear that this so-called approach rejects and departs from The Hague Joint Declaration, the common framework adopted by both sides since September 1992 that has held the negotiations in good stead resulting in the inking of at least 10 major bilateral agreements including the Hague Joint Declaration, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the CARHRIHL.

GPH statements say it will be a localized approach (ergo not national) i.e. local peace talks, peace zones, amnesty/surrender and rehabilitation/socio-economic projects.  These can only give at most palliatives to conflict in localities but are not intended to address the roots of the armed conflict, which are national in scope and essence including pervasive landlessness, the surrender of national sovereignty, the plunder and degradation of natural resources and the environment, joblessness and low wages, hunger and poverty.

The GPH "new approach", for all intents and purposes, is really not a new path to peace but yet another rehash of the failed and worn-out counterinsurgency war against the CPP/NPA/NDFP. #

Published in Business World
24-25 May 2013


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