June 21, 2013

A quitter never wins

The impasse in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) brings to mind a popular tagline coined by the late Manuel Uy, a highly successful wholesaler of sweepstakes tickets from the late fifties onwards, to wit, "Ang nagwawagi ay di umaayaw; ang umaayaw ay di nagwawagi."  (A winner never quits; a quitter never wins.)

Odd and facetious as it may sound, this is the dilemma that the GPH under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III  now faces.  The GPH wants to quit the peace talks but it doesn’t want to appear to be losing in this arena of battle with the revolutionary movement.  At the same time, it loathes to concede that the NDFP is scoring political points at the peace table that is why the latter persists in negotiations despite seemingly insurmountable differences with the GPH.

The GPH has announced that it has had it with the NDFP: that the peace talks are going nowhere (whether the regular track referring to the formal peace negotiations or the “special track” initiated by the NDFP meaning the negotiations for arriving at an immediate truce and alliance between the two warring parties); that the NDFP’s adamant refusal to enter into a long-term if not permanent ceasefire bespeaks of its lack of sincerity since the peace talks are primarily about stilling the guns of war; in the meanwhile the NPA, although much reduced in strength, continues to ambush and kill soldiers, police and civilians in a protracted armed struggle (in many instances,  just as the AFP declared the area as "cleared" or "insurgency-free") that the CPP/NPA/NDFP matches with protracted peace talks aimed only at attaining belligerency status and the release of its detained leaders; and that the GPH is "talking to the wrong people" since the NDFP negotiating panel appears not to have control over its ground forces.

The GPH’s abovementioned pronouncements were widely interpreted to be a unilateral termination of the peace negotiations and reported dutifully as such by Philippine mass media.  But the GPH has had to backtrack and has instead said that it remains open to peace talks.  It appears that the GPH is still hard pressed to justify why it is pulling out of the peace negotiations and continues to buy time so as to convince the public that it indeed has a found a “new approach” to peace. 

Objectively, however, the GPH has placed itself in a no-win position. For the GPH to be the first to quit or pull out of the talks would be tantamount to conceding that it lacks the political will and acumen to face - and trump - the revolutionaries at the negotiating table.  The Aquino regime now appears to be defeatist and to have fallen prey to the mindset that sees the military solution as the only solution to an armed conflict rooted in social injustice.

Which is why OPAPP Secretary Deles, officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Presidential spokespersons have been busy trying to sell the GPH line that it is the NDFP that is the cause of the impasse and impending collapse of the talks and that there is a way to achieve a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict without engaging in peace negotiations with the revolutionary movement.

The GPH continues to poison the air by its lies, undermining and destroying confidence and goodwill - a clear indication of its desire and intent to end the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations even as it has yet to formally terminate them. 

The GPH lies when it says the NDFP has hostaged the resumption of formal talks on the precondition of the release of its consultants despite failure of verification of their documents of identification (DIs) as per the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.  They conveniently omit the fact that the  NDFP office and houses of its officials and staff in the Netherlands were raided by the Dutch police in 2003 and computers, flash and compact disks alike as well as documents were hauled away among which contained the encryption keys to the files that held the DIs. These keys had become corrupted while in the custody of the Netherlands authorities and failed to open the cyphered files containing the DIs.

GPH negotiating panel head Alex Padilla always cites the Oslo Joint Statement Feb 2012 that release is "subject to verification" while omitting the rest of the sentence which says "or for other humanitarian or practical reasons".  In fact only two detained NDFP consultants need to be released for substantial compliance by the GPH with its earlier commitments to pave the way to the resumption of formal talks.

The GPH lies when it says that the NDFP killed the “special track” by presenting three new drafts and imposing impossible preconditions such as the abolition of government programs such as the Conditional Cash Transfer, PAMANA and Oplan Bayanihan.  In fact, it was the NDFP that proposed the “special track” to open the way to an extraordinary “truce and alliance” between the GPH and the NDFP that would be anchored on a declaration of unity to put in place several major and urgent reforms upon which an immediate truce could then be forged.  The GPH shot this down by insisting a priori on a ceasefire and its version of the draft declaration. When the NDFP countered with its own comprehensive draft that it was willing to subject to negotiations with the GPH, the GPH representatives simply refused, saying they did not have the mandate to discuss the NDFP draft as well as other prejudicial issues.

OPAPP Secretary Deles lies when she says that the GPH and RNG third party facilitator have "mutually agreed that the special track has been killed by the NDFP ...(and) we do not want to return to the regular track".  The RNG official involved has not affirmed this statement; on the contrary he has denied this to the NDFP and has declared that the RNG is continuing in its role as third party facilitator although the RNG, for its own reasons,  has refrained from making any public pronouncement to this effect.

The GPH is again lying and resorting to intrigue when it says that the NDFP peace panel based in Utrecht, the Netherlands are not the “right persons to talk to” claiming a supposed “disconnect” between these NDFP officials and their people “on the ground”.  There is no iota of evidence that the revolutionary movement has withdrawn the sole authority to conduct peace negotiations with the GPH from the current NDFP peace panel.  The GPH is merely laying the ground for localized peace talks that the NDFP has already denounced as bogus.  It would not be surprising if the GPH later trots out rebel surrenderees in make-believe localized peace talks.

To top it all, the GPH is lying through its teeth when it says that formal peace negotiations have not achieved anything and is leading nowhere.  The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL is a landmark agreement on the first of the four substantive agenda of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations that speaks for itself.  On the basis of CARHRIHL, a mechanism is now in place by which complaints of either side, or anyone else for that matter, with regard to violations by either party of human rights and international humanitarian law in the course of the armed conflict can be filed, investigated and justice rendered.  That it is not able to fulfill this function effectively is the result of the inexplicable refusal of the GPH to convene the Joint Monitoring Committee mandated by CARHRIHL and not because the agreement is worthless.

In fact the regular track was poised to tackle the second substantive agenda, socio-economic reforms, and if the agreed upon timetable of 18 months was to have been pursued, the rest of the agenda, political and constitutional reforms and cessation of hostilities/disposition of forces would have followed.

On the other hand, the GPH is floating its "new approach" piecemeal yet is unable to clearly define a new viable framework more than a month and a half after rejecting the regular track and announcing that the GPH is "considering a new approach" to the peace process and peace negotiations.

Meanwhile Secretary Deles’ insistence on "reducing violence on the ground" departs from, undermines, and is not contextualized in achieving "a just and lasting peace by addressing the roots of the armed conflict" but in fact imposes ceasefire as a precondition to talks.  Moreover, the GPH is avoiding at all costs the continuation of the regular as well as the special track of the peace talks wherein both address urgent and systemic reforms that can result in a genuine and viable peace.

This time the GPH under Mr. Aquino has grossly miscalculated its gamble and, if it is effectively exposed and opposed, is bound to lose the political and moral high ground. #

Published in Business World
21-22 June 2013


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