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Taking the GRP-NDFP peace talks seriously

Last December 3, the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced that informal peace negotiations have started, and that formal peace talks are to resume on February in Oslo, Norway. To show the sincerity and goodwill of both sides in pursuing the talks, a holiday ceasefire has been agreed upon starting December 16-January 3.

NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni described the meeting as “fruitful, meaningful and cordial.” Jalandoni also visited the country after the Hold Departure Order against him was lifted and assurances were made that GRP will uphold the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

The NDFP has also welcomed the Aquino government’s move to drop the charges against the Morong 43, calling it a “boost of goodwill” for the forthcoming negotiations.

The coming peace talks should be supported by all Filipinos who value freedom, democracy and justice. The talks present an opportunity to discuss the plight of poor Filipinos especially in the countryside, to study the fundamental problems of Philippine society and to implement meaningful reforms to address the root causes of armed insurgency.

Support and advocacy however requires an informed understanding of the purpose, framework and background of the talks. Dr. Carol Araullo, in her column, correctly points out that “certain premises and historical antecedents need to be recalled, clarified and reiterated” and that “neither skepticism nor uninformed peace mongering should be allowed to rule the day.”

The Hague Joint Declaration

A good place to start is the Hague Joint Declaration, signed in 1992, which lays the foundation for future agreements and talks. The declaration is important as it points out that the aim of the talks is not to force the surrender of either of the parties but to address the roots of armed conflict and to achieve just and lasting peace. It affirms the principle of “mutual respect and reciprocity” and “non-capitulation.”

A common error, consciously or unconsciously, being made against this principle is the call, most of the time from hawks and military men, for the NDFP to lay down their arms first before talks would ensue. Not only is this in violation of the previous agreements, it is also devoid of common sense, as why would there be a need for talks if the other party would be willing to surrender or has already surrendered?

The Aquino government may have been ill-advised in this regard when in his State of the Nation Address he demanded a “malawakang tigil-putukan” or a general ceasefire as a precondition to the talks. He also painted an image of the NDFP as unreasonable and without concrete suggestions: “handa na ba kayong maglaan ng kongkretong mungkahi, sa halip na pawang batikos lamang?”

He might have saved himself some rhetoric if before his tirades he took a look at the Hague Declaration among other previous agreements, which, in a fairly concrete and straightforward manner, have outlined the agenda for the talks: 1) human rights and international humanitarian law, 2) social and economic reforms, 3) political and constitutional reforms, and 4) end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

There have also been Reciprocal Working Committees (RWC) agreements of 1995 and 1997 which spelled out the concrete details on how to tackle these agenda items in proper sequence.

JASIG

It is only proper that with the start of the peace talks, previous agreements be upheld. Among these: JASIG and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) of 1995 provides for the security of the negotiators and personnel of both the GRP and NDFP. They are guaranteed safe passage and immunity from punitive actions such as arrest, detention and surveillance.

The GRP unilaterally suspended JASIG in 2005. Since then, scores of NDFP consultants and negotiators, including Jalandoni and Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison have been charged with various crimes. Some have been arrested and are detained, several abducted and one consultant assasinated.

CARHIHL

The CARHIHL is a landmark agreement signed by the GRP and NDFP in 1998, human rights being the first among the four substantive agenda. It is proof that the peace talks can move forward with both governments agreeing to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.

A Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) was put up to ensure the adherence of both parties to the agreement. While the Joint Secretariat (JS) has been formed, it is unfortunate however, that the previous government has refused to allow the meeting of the JMC to take place.

The implementation of the CAHRIHL will not only serve to pave the way for other agreements but will also be instrumental in defending and upholding human rights in general. This also illustrates how gains in the peace talks are not only set to benefit the parties involved but the welfare of the Filipino people in general.

A Just and Lasting Peace

The start of the formal talks in February is something to look forward to. It is only logical for the talks to start with honoring previous agreements and the basic principles laid upon previous talks. With this we can hope that new ones will be signed as well, until a final peace agreement can be forged, bringing with it meaningful change for the majority of Filipinos.

The Aquino government, promising “change” and “reform” is challenged to remove all impediments to the peace talks and fully commit to building a truly free, democratic, and just society. The talks will further test the limits of the Aquino government with regards to the changes and pro-people reforms it is willing to take.

Both parties admit to the fact that the road to peace and change will not be easy. There will be plenty of challenges and impediments which will ultimately require the vigilance and participation of the Filipino people. We must, inside and outside the peace process, take an active role in upholding the rights of the people especially the poor, fight for justice, and advocate social change.

First published on Blogwatch.ph
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