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Update on the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations* 

Rey Claro C. Casambre

Philippine Peace Center

December 4, 2003

* Paper read by Atty. Edre Olalia for Mr. Casambre at the “Waging Peace in the Philippines –Facilitating Processes, Consolidating  Participation,”  4 December 2003 at the Social Development Center, Ateneo de Manila University


Two rounds of informal talks were held in the past two months.   

The first, held 10-11 October 2003 in Oslo, Norway ended in an optimistic note, with both sides signifying a desire to arrive at an agreement to resume formal peace talks soon. This prompted the NDFP to announce in an 11 October press release that “GRP and NDFP inch closer to the resumption of formal peace talks”.   

The second, also held in Oslo in 20-21 November and then in Utrecht, The Netherlands in 23 November did not end in such a bright note. The discussions initially appeared to make considerable progress with both parties working around the major differences on the setting up of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the “terrorist” listing of the CPP, NPA and NDFP Chief Political Consultant in order to clear the way to the resumption of the formal talks. 

However, an impasse was again reached over an apparent attempt by the GRP to downgrade the bilateral agreements that serve as foundation and framework of the negotiations, the GRP proposal for a “new enhanced process” now described as a “sequential and accelerated process”, and the question of ceasefire and indemnification of Marcos human rights victims. This prevented the panels from arriving at an agreement to resume formal talks when they adjourned on the evening of 21 November. 

Both panels agreed to meet again 23 November in Utrecht to  resolve these differences. It was give and go, with both parties agreeing to reserve for the formal talks the resolution of major differences. Still, at the end of the day, the two panels failed to agree on a mutually acceptable statement on the issues of indemnification of human rights victims under the Marcos regime and ceasefire for the yuletide season.  

Since the non-resolution of the ceasefire period will not affect the resumption of formal talks, the non-resolution of the question of indemnification of human rights victims remains the last major obstacle to the resumption of formal talks between the GRP and NDF. 

That is assuming that none of the parties backtracks on the agreements crafted in this last round of talks.  

Status of the Major Issues or Points of Contention 

The public has long been bombarded by news stories, mostly quoting GRP sources,  announcing the imminent resumption of formal talks with the NDFP, and for that matter with the MILF too.  A foolproof  method of determining the truth to these reports is whether or not both Parties have issued a joint statement saying they have agreed to do so, on what basis and for what specific purpose.  After all, the formal talks can only resume as a result of such an agreement.  

The absence of a joint statement clearly indicates the absence of an agreement to resume formal talks.  Any estimation of how close the two parties are to arriving at a mutually acceptable statement becomes a matter of interpretation and judgment, if not speculation.  

Nonetheless, we can have a good idea of the extent and degree to which the Parties have resolved contentious issues by examining how the draft proposals of both Parties for the joint statement  have come closer to each other from their respective initial negotiating positions on one hand, and on what and how much more is left unresolved on the other.   

A comparison of the formulations proposed by both Parties on the contentious issues in the latest round of informal talks gives us an idea of how much closer -- and distant -- the two parties are to the resumption of formal talks.  More, it gives us a preview of what remaining obstacles lie ahead on the path to peace once the formal talks are resumed.  

In particular, we see in the last round of talks the partial resolution of the following obstacles to the resumption of formal talks which we enumerated and elaborated on in last year's conference,  “Waging Peace in the Philippines – Looking Back, Moving Forward”   

  1. The terrorist listing

  2. The 1992 Hague Joint Declaration as framework for the negotiations

  3. Process (sequence of negotiations and implementation of agreements)

  4. Backchannel vs formal talks

  5. Implementation of CARHRIHL

  6. The GRP panel's mandate to negotiate

The terrorist listing  

Contrary to GRP claims, the NDFP has never demanded as a precondition to the resumption of formal talks the delisting of the CPP, NPA and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Ma. Sison from the terrorist lists of the USA, European Union, The Netherlands and other Western governments. What the NDFP had demanded since early 2003 was that,  

…the GRP should rectify all violations of the agreements enumerated in this letter by repudiating and renouncing the foreign terrorist listings and sanctions… as actual intrusions into the purely internal affairs of the Filipino people and serious violations of the democratic rights of Prof. Sison. Such listings are also baseless and utterly devoid of merit. (Letter of NDFP Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni to GRP Panel Chair Silvestre Bello III dated 15 April 2003) 

The GRP begs the question by arguing, rather obliquely, that they had nothing to do with the terrorist listings by foreign governments -- a claim belied by official statements made by GRP Foreign Affairs Secretary Ople to media and by GRP National Security Adviser Secretary Golez, under oath, before a Congressional hearing.  

The issue has been partially resolved in Paragraph 2 of the draft joint statement which both parties have agreed to:  

To resolve the outstanding issue of the “terrorist” listing of the CPP/NPA and the NDFP chief political consultant, effective measures shall be undertaken in consonance with The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and other bilateral agreements.  The panelists, consultants, staffers and other duly-authorized participants of said negotiations shall thereby be fully protected by the pertinent provisions of The Hague Joint Declaration, the JASIG, and the CARHRIHL and as well as the Amado V. Hernandez doctrine on political offense. 

It is unclear and remains to be seen what "effective measures” shall be undertaken. For the sake of paving the way towards resumption, the NDFP had crafted the above paragraph to replace its initial formulation, “the two parties shall undertake appropriate diplomatic and political actions and legal remedies to rectify the aforecited violations to the satisfaction of the aggrieved parties”  and the abovequoted stronger position calling on the GRP to “repudiate and renounce” the terrorist listing.   

The GRP, for its part, eventually agreed on the term "to resolve" rather than its proposed tamer and less committal term, "to address".  


The implementation of CARHRIHL; the formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee 

The contentious issues that have prevented the joint implementation of the CARHRIHL, such as the formation and activation of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) are grounded on the issue on the NDFP's authority to implement the CARHRIHL jointly with and separately from the GRP, or on whether or not there is dual political power in the country. The issue arose and threatened to throw the talks into another impasse when the GRP proposed the "revisit" of the final draft of the "Operational Guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee".  This document  had been agreed upon in the GRP-NDFP informal talks 11-14 November 2001, but was left unsigned by the GRP delegation after it failed to get the approval of the Cabinet Oversight Committee for Internal Security (COC-IS). 

In the recently concluded November 2003 informal talks, the two panels agreed to reserve for the formal talks the resolution of the nature and mandate of the JMC in accordance with the CARHRIHL.  Thus, the draft joint statement reads: 

      Upon resumption of the formal talks, we shall complete the formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee and specify its nature and mandate in accordance with the CARHRIHL. 


Framework of the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations   

There was an apparent attempt by the GRP in the last round of talks to downgrade the importance of the bilateral agreements such as the Hague Joint Declaration, JASIG and the agreements on the formation, sequence and operationalization of the RWCs, even as lip service is paid to the reaffirmation of these agreements.   

The GRP panel proposed the following formulation for the draft Joint Statement: 

We reaffirm the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees and subsequent agreements as the guide to the process of the GRP-NDF peace negotiations as previously affirmed in the 9 March 2001 Utrecht Joint Statement and Oslo Communique in April 2001.(italics ours) 

The GRP’s backtracking, rather than reaffirming the aforementioned bilateral agreements can be seen when this is compared to the 9 March 2001 Utrecht Joint Statement and the Oslo Communique:  

The Parties uphold and affirm the validity and binding character of the ten bilateral agreements (Annex A hereof) that were entered into between them from 1 September 1992 to 7 August 1998 as the framework and foundation for the resumption of the peace negotiations. (italics ours) 

The GRP’s attempt to downgrade the Hague Joint Declaration, JASIG and the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees and subsequent agreements from “framework” to a “guide” is only the latest of its moves to amend these agreements. The GRP had persistently pushed the position that the peace negotiations and the agreements should be within the framework of or in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. It  insists this is the meaning of the phrase “national sovereignty” in the Hague Joint Declaration.  But the NDFP rejects this view, pointing out that to accede to this interpretation would be to capitulate to the political authority of the GRP.  

The GRP declares that it cannot as a matter of principle accept that there are two sovereign powers in the country, and that it must assert itself as the sole sovereign and the territory as indivisible. The NDFP points out that the GRP must accept the reality on the ground that there is dual political power, that it is the people who are truly sovereign, and that the GRP has in fact violated this sovereignty by entering into agreements with the US and other foreign powers that surrender to them extraterritorial rights and the national patrimony. 

The NDFP panel insisted in the 23 November session at Utrecht that the terms "framework and foundation" be retained to describe the said bilateral agreements.  The GRP eventually relented. Thus  Paragraph 1 of the draft Joint Statement now reads:


       We  reaffirm The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWC Agreement) and subsequent agreements as the foundation and framework of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as  affirmed in the 9 March 2001 Utrecht Joint Statement and the Oslo Communique in April 2001.      

This is not to say the issue has been resolved, only that it will not be a hindrance, for now,  to the resumption of formal talks.


The “new enhanced process”, the “Final Peace Agreement” and the “sequential and accelerated process”. 

We recall that in earlier backchannel talks the NDFP had flatly  rejected as "negotiated capitulation" the GRP-proposed "new enhanced process" which had as its endgoal a single comprehensive Final Peace Agreement. 

In the last round of talks, the GRP panel proposed “sequential and accelerated negotiations” instead of the “new enhanced process”.  The difference between the two is minor and inconsequential. The proposed “sequential and accelerated process” on the other hand, appears to acknowledge the sequence in tackling the agenda but calls for simultaneous work for the SER and PCR RWCs.  It makes no mention of the final peace agreement, and in the end is quiet on cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces (read: disbandment of NPA).  But it asserts that all agreements shall be signed at the end of the negotiations, implying the inclusion of an agreement on cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces. In short, the proposed “sequential and accelerated negotiations” is essentially the “new enhanced process” leading to a “Final Peace Accord”. Furthermore, it sets not just a shorter time frame of three months rather than the original six, but a date, a deadline for finishing all agreements. 

Again, both panels agreed to set aside the difference for the meantime and resolve it in the formal talks. Thus the draft joint statement reads: 

4.  The Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) shall resume their work. Their work shall be facilitated and accelerated by subcommittees that can continue their work in between meetings of the RWC-SER.  

5.  The GRP proposal for sequential and accelerated negotiations, particularly the formation of subcommittees of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Political and Constitutional Reforms, and other related proposals shall be discussed in the formal talks.

The GRP panel’s mandate to negotiate 

We recall that in all instances that the GRP and NDFP panels met for so-called backchannel talks since June 2001, often accompanied by more senior GRP officials, the GRP delegation has not once signed any document, be it a draft joint agreement, guideline, or a half-page joint press statement. This gives credence to reliable reports that the GRP panel had in fact been given specific instructions from the President not to sign anything until it is cleared by Malacanang or the COC-IS.   

The GRP panel appeared to come close to breaking that pattern last November 21, when they hinted that a joint statement may be signed before the panels adjourn that night. Unfortunately, this would not be the case, despite the presence of the OPAPP Head Secretary Deles  and Presidential Adviser for Special Concerns Secretary Gonzales.


Confidence-building measure 

Ironically, what remains as a stumbling block to the resumption of formal talks of the formal talks is an item on the agenda that was meant to facilitate it by, well, building confidence and goodwill: the indemnification of human rights victims under the martial law regime, which had already been agreed upon as provided for in the CARHRIHL.  Although included on the agenda as a confidence-building measure, it has now taken a new character given the current controversy over the disposition or allocation of the escrowed Marcos Swiss accounts. (It is not unlikely that the controversy is fueled by wild misconceptions in some quarters that the NDFP is interested in appropriating the large sum to solve its liquidity problems arising from the "terrorist" tag.)



In sum, the good news is that on the surface all but one of the major obstacles to the resumption of formal peace negotiations have been cleared. The bad news is that they have not really been resolved but shelved, for the moment. It remains to be seen whether an agreement would finally be reached to resume formal talks.   


Postscript (31 December 2003) 

This paper reportedly elicited the question, notably from the GRP officials who were present: “Why is the update pessimistic?”  This question was articulated in the forum by GRP Negotiating Panel member Ms. Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel, who commented that perhaps this writer was not updated on recent developments.  

Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel pointed out that GRP Negotiating Panel Chair had called up the NDFP panel to propose a reformulation on the indemnification issue that might be mutually acceptable, that the NDFP said it sounded like something they might work on and asked that the reformulation be faxed to them.   

What was missing in Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel’s update was the following: (1) the NDFP had asked for a fax copy rather than a verbal transmission to enable them to study the proposal, (2) GRP Panel Chair Bello agreed to fax the proposal, and (3) as of 4 December, several days after his call, he had not faxed the proposed reformulation to the NDFP panel. Atty. Bello, who was present at the forum, did not make these clarifications either. Shortly afterwards, he explained to Atty. Olalia in private that he had not yet faxed the proposed reformulation to the NDFP panel because it had not yet been approved by the President.  

This only underscores once again the question on the mandate of the GRP panel to negotiate, and the process by which agreements are to be reached. Had the NDF agreed to the GRP panel’s reformulation when Atty. Bello read it over the phone, it would not have amounted to much, since the President or COC-IS could still have overturned that agreement.     

In fact the proposed reformulation was faxed to the NDFP panel on December 10, a week after the forum, and more than a week after Atty. Bello’s phone call to the NDFP panel. The NDFP panel responded to this reformulation in 16 December with proposed counterformulations; and the GRP Panel in turn responded to the NDFP in a letter dated 23 December. 

As of 31 December 2003, no joint statement has been issued by the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels announcing the resumption of formal talks, indicating that no agreement has been reached. On the other hand, both parties have separately reiterated publicly their interest and desire to resume formal talks.  

Why did the paper sound pessimistic?  The prior and more important question is, is it factual?  This writer maintains that it is. The facts speak for themselves, and it is left to the audience and readers to determine whether the conclusions drawn in the paper are logical, supported by facts and clarify the current status of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. #







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