Honoring agreements, a prerequisite to peace
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
The signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) by the
Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
yesterday, is being hailed as “historic” and ushering in the dawn of peace
in Muslim Mindanao. In this light, there is understandable questioning and
speculation about the implications of the arrest last weekend of spouses
Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, alleged by the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP) as the “No. 1” and “No. 2” of the Communist Party of
the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), to “the other peace” (PDI
editorial, 27 March 2014); that is, the peace negotiations between the GPH
and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the umbrella
alliance that represents the CPP-NPA and several other national democratic
underground mass organizations in the peace talks.
So far, the preponderant voices from both sides are pessimistic.
The Aquino government asserts that the arrests are quite legal and
regular, proof positive of the proficiency of state security forces in
running after the “enemies of the state”. GPH claims that the couple is
not covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)
under the GPH-NDFP peace talks because of the following: Wilma Austria-Tiamzon
jumped bail during her arrest in 1994; both are facing several criminal
charges; and Benito Tiamzon used an alias in his safe conduct pass. The
GPH has unilaterally declared that the JASIG is inoperative for all those
who used aliases because of the failure of the process attempted in 2011
to verify if the persons claimed by the NDFP to be JASIG-protected were
More important, the GPH views the arrests as a major, if not fatal, blow
to the viability of an armed movement that government claims is
continually dwindling in terms of adherents and whose ideological and
political moorings have been undercut by a “daang matuwid” government and
hefty economic growth figures.
And while the GPH says it continues to keep its door open to the peace
talks, it insists that the intransigence and insincerity of the NDFP is
what is dooming any hope for the resumption of the peace negotiations
which, while not yet officially or technically terminated, has been at an
impasse since mid-2011, soon after the reopening of the formal talks under
the BS Aquino administration.
The NDFP for its part stands pat on its position that the Tiamzon couple’s
arrest is illegal and violates the JASIG signed by the two parties in
1995. The two are bona fide NDFP consultants holding documents of
identification duly acknowledged by previous GPH Peace Panel heads, Howard
Dee and Sylvestre Bello, which act as safe conduct passes giving them
immunity from surveillance, arrest and prosecution while they perform
their tasks in the ongoing peace talks.
Wilma Austria-Tiamzon is publicly known since the Fidel V. Ramos
administration as a key participant in the peace process (in fact she was
released on recognizance as a confidence-building measure for the peace
negotiations). She holds a safe conduct pass and is listed under her real
name in the list of JASIG-protected persons, a copy of which is held by
the GPH. Therefore no other verification process is necessary.
Benito Tiamzon was in possession of his safe conduct pass under the name
Crising Banaag but this was disregarded and even confiscated by the
arresting team. This same name with the corresponding specific
identification number appears in the list of GPH-acknowledged JASIG-protected
holders of documents of identification.
As to the criminal charges facing the two, JASIG provides that such
charges are held in abeyance while the peace negotiations are ongoing, an
arrangement legally recognized by the GPH courts in the cases of other
well-known NDFP consultants who are currently out on bail. In many other
instances, the mechanism set up by the two Parties to facilitate
resolution of the cases had resulted in the withdrawal of charges and
dismissal of the cases inasmuch as the arrests and detention were usually
illegal, charges were trumped-up and evidences fabricated or weak. However
this mechanism was unilaterally dissolved by the GPH in June 2012.
The JASIG is a solemn and binding agreement that the GPH cannot just set
aside unilaterally and on the basis of its own determination. There are
provisions as to how this bilateral agreement shall be terminated. Without
the JASIG, the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations could not have taken off and
continued despite numerous suspensions and a couple of GPH-initiated
In the first place, JASIG was set up by the GPH and NDFP precisely “to
facilitate the peace negotiations, create a favorable atmosphere conducive
to free discussion and free movement during the negotiations, and avert
any incident that may jeopardize the peace negotiations” learning from the
1986-87 peace negotiations which collapsed when the safety of the
negotiators as well as the process itself was put in great peril.
At the same time, the integrity and security of the agreement itself was
safeguarded with the explicit provision that the JASIG can only be
terminated by either Party issuing a written notice of termination to the
other Party, and which will only take effect 30 days after receipt of the
notice by the other Party. Since no such written notice of termination has
so far been issued by either Party, the JASIG remains in full force and
effect, binding on the GPH and the NDFP to this moment.
Furthermore, in the event that the JASIG is terminated, the agreement
provides that “All immunities acquired by virtue of this Joint Agreement
shall remain in full force and effect even after the termination of this
Joint Agreement, provided said immunities shall not cover acts which are
contrary to the purposes of the peace negotiations and outside and beyond
involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.”
Clearly, recent statements by some high government officials that the
Tiamzon couple cannot be covered by JASIG protection because the JASIG is
no longer in effect because there are no talks are false and have no basis
in the agreement itself.
But is the NDFP setting as a precondition to the resumption of the stalled
formal peace talks, the release of the Tiamzon couple? No, the NDFP is
demanding the release of the Tiamzons as a matter of obligation on the
part of the GPH, in compliance with the JASIG and other solemn bilateral
agreements it has entered into with the NDFP.
In any kind of negotiation, be it a business contract, a labor-management
agreement, or a peace treaty, there is nothing more natural, plainly
obvious, logical, and commonsensical than for one party to demand of the
other party compliance with whatever agreements are entered into. In peace
negotiations where smaller agreements form the building blocks toward a
final and comprehensive peace agreement, the integrity of the former are
essential to the solidity and efficacy of the final agreement. Simply put,
how can any party expect the other party to honor its obligations in a
final comprehensive agreement when the latter cannot or does not comply
with previous smaller agreements?
In the final analysis, what really matters in the peace negotiations is
how serious both Parties really are in finding common grounds of
cooperation in effecting fundamental reforms needed to eradicate the
social, economic and political roots of the armed conflict.
Unfortunately, what we are hearing and seeing in the GPH pronouncement and
actions, regarding the arrest, continuing detention and prosecution of the
Tiamzons, is a complete lack of interest if not intent in resuming peace
talks with the NDFP. #
Published in Business World
28-29 March 2014