By Tessa Barre
The peace talks may be stalled but will not cease, said Rey Casambre, executive director of the Philippine Peace Center (PPC), on the status of the halted peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Speaking at a forum held at the UP College of Mass Communication, Feb. 22, he said the peace negotiations will continue as long as the government returns to the negotiating table.
“Gobyerno naman ang umayaw,” he added. “Ang NDFP hindi umaayaw sa peace talks.”
The peace negotiations, which began September last year, are currently put on hold after President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the talks and declared the NDFP and its political and armed counterparts, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA), as terrorist groups Feb.4.
However, without support for the termination of the peace talks from high-ranking government officials and the formal cancellation of the agreement of immunity guarantees, Casambre is certain the government is not determined to end the negotiations.
“Wala pang nag-e-express significantly ng support para sa terminasyon ng talks kahit sa loob ng gobyerno,” Casambre said.
“Kahit sa Kongreso nag-pass ng resolution na ipagpatuloy ang peace talks at sa isang hapon lamang, mahigit 100 kongresista ang pumirma doon.”
Earlier this week, the House committee on peace, reconciliation, and unity approved House Resolution No. 769 voting 8-0-0, garnering 130 signatures from representatives calling on the president to resume the negotiations.
Moreover, Casambre commented on the vagueness of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) termination sent by the administration to Jose Ma. Sison, founder of CPP and current NDFP political consultant.
“Walang kalinawan kung ano yung attitude ng gobyerno sa termination ng JASIG,” the PPC executive director said.
“Yung [NDFP] nagdeklara sila na hindi nila kinikilala yung notice of termination dahil lacking in form and substance,” he said.
The official termination of the JASIG, a document signed in 1995 ensuring the safety and immunity of negotiators and consultants from both parties during the peace talks, will also mean the termination of the negotiations itself.
According to Casambre, the notice was only sent through email instead of courier or at least fax.
However, the NDFP has affirmed receipt of the termination notice Feb. 7 and has since started the 30-day grace period run to effectivity.
Two days after the JASIG termination, Aries Arbitrario, a peace consultant, together with two of his companions were arrested by the Philippine military Feb. 6 at a checkpoint in Davao City.
Nevertheless, Casambre remains optimistic that the peace talks will eventually resume, citing the breakthroughs achieved during the first three rounds of the talks as well as the president’s self-identification as a leftist.
For one, the president’s initial reaffirmation of all previous agreements made during the seminal peace talks during the Ramos administration made the recent peace talks possible, said Casambre.
Moreover, the current administration acknowledged documents such as The Hague Joint Declaration, the JASIG and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which previous administrations “disregarded,” making peace negotiations improbable.
Meanwhile, the third round of the peace talks saw the signing of the supplementary guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee under CARHRIHL, which ensures a venue for victims of human rights violations due to armed conflict to file complaints.
The third round of the talks also produced an agreement on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms’s (CASER’s) preamble and first few articles affirming the need for agrarian reform.
The CASER, which some say is the heart and soul of the peace process, is a document containing the most contentious issues of agrarian reform and national industrialization among others which the NDF deems to be the solution to the root cause of the conflict in the Philippines.
Through these we’ll see the unity of the two reciprocal committees on the free distribution of land, said Casambre, which again is a welcome change from the previous administration.
“Of course malaki pa yung kailangang takbuhin. Pero andun sa nakita ng dalawang panel malaki na ang pagsasalubungan,” Casambre concluded, citing that this was already significant progress compared to the last administration where land reform had not even been discussed.
Beyond the armed conflict
The communist insurgency waged by the CPP-NPA-NDFP since the late 1960s is the longest-running in the world with clashes between the NPA and the Philippine military resulting in almost 400 cases of atrocities and deaths at the height of the Aquino counterinsurgency program.
Code-named “Oplan Bayanihan,” the “internal peace and security plan” was launched in 2011 and ended December last year to give way to the peace talks.
However, others see beyond these decades in their analysis of the armed conflict in the Philippines.
Ben Te, University of the Philippines Diliman University Student Council councilor, traces a longer history of insurgency starting from the Spanish colonization.
“Hindi nagsimula ang armed conflict sa Pilipinas noong itinayo ang CPP-NPA-NDF. In fact, sa matagal na panahon meron ng armed conflict sa Pilipinas mula pa sa panahon ng mga Epanyol hanggang sa kasalukuyan. Meron laging tunggalian,” said Te.
Due to this centuries-old absence of peace in the country, Te said, it is time for Filipinos to understand how to attain peace outside the government’s use of force and to address the root causes of the conflict.
“Dahil itong bansa natin ay napakahaba na ng karanasan sa armed conflict, nakikita natin na nauugat lang naman ito doon sa pangunahing krisis na kinakaharap ng ating lipunan sa ating ekonomiya, sa ating pulitika,” Te said.
Meanwhile, Casambre entreated the students for help with calling for the resumption of peace talks.
“Idagdag niyo ang inyong tinig sa mga panawagan na ipagptuloy yung talks…Dahil yung kinabukasan niyo ng inyong mga anak ay nakasalalay sa usapang ito,” Casambre said.
With the termination of the peace negotiations, non-government organizations (NGOs) like the Tanggulan Youth Network continue raising awareness on the peace process and its necessity through fora, protest actions and campaigns.
The Network, a youth alliance of civil liberties and human rights advocates, remains open for volunteers and members. #
(Photo taken by Inna Cabel.)