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Updates and Prospects: GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

 

Presented at the Committee Hearing of the Philippine Senate

Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation

 

By Rey Claro C. Casambre

Executive Director, Philippine Peace Center

6 December 2004

 

 

Summary

 

After taking a modest but significant step forward with three rounds of formal talks in the first half of this year, the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are once again stalled.  A fourth round which was agreed on to be held in July this year was moved to August by mutual agreement, and then postponed indefinitely by the NDFP “in order to give the GRP enough time to comply with its obligations” in accordance with the Oslo agreements. Unfortunately, the GRP has signaled, by GMA’s branding the CPP-NPA-NDF “terrorists”, that it is not currently inclined to do so.  Just recently, the GRP even accused the NPA of being “illegal loggers” responsible for the deaths and devastation in flooded and landslide-stricken areas, thus raising doubts on its capacity, if not its intent, to identify and address the real roots of the people’s problems that ignite and fan the flames of armed conflict.  Thus, the formal talks remain postponed and hopes for its resumption have dimmed further in recent months.

 

The Oslo Joint Statements I and II

 

It will be recalled that after almost three years of recess and suspension, formal peace talks resumed in Oslo, Norway last February 10-14, 2004, with the Royal Norwegian Government as third party facilitator.  Both parties renewed their commitment to address the roots of the armed conflict by adopting social, economic and political reforms and thereby laying the ground for a just and lasting peace.  Another round was held March 30-April 2.  These two rounds resulted in the two joint statements issued in Oslo dated February 14 and April 2, 2004, announcing agreements and measures taken on the following:

 

1.         Reaffirming The Hague Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and seven other signed bilateral agreements as the framework and foundation of the talks.

2.         Undertaking effective measures to resolve the issue of the “terrorist” listing of the CPP/NPA and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant 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.

3.         Formation and operationalization of  the Joint Monitoring Committee and its Joint Secretariat.

4.         Reconvening the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs on SER) immediately and accelerate the work towards completing the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). Upon completion by the RWCs on SER of the sections on agrarian reform and on national industrialization, the work on political and constitutional reforms shall be initiated.

5.         Release by the GRP of political prisoners whose release papers have been signed in 2001,  review by the GRP of cases of women, children, sick and elderly political detainees, and the more than 300 cases of prisoners charged, detained or convicted of common crimes contrary to the Hernandez doctrine against the criminalization of political offenses.

6.         Indemnification of victims of human rights violations under the martial law regime, in particular the segregation of USD 150M or at least PhP8 billion from the recovered Marcos ill-gotten wealth to compensate such victims, and for the GRP to exert its utmost initiative to obtain passage of an administration bill for the compensation of martial law victims of human rights violations satisfactory to the victims, giving priority to the successful plaintiffs in the Human Rights Litigation against Marcos who shall be indemnified without further delay and in the most expeditious manner..

 

A third round was held last June 20-24 wherein the progress made on these agreements was discussed, and further measures to accelerate their implementation were proposed and considered, especially on the issues of “terrorist” listing, indemnification of human rights victims, and the release of political prisoners.  

 

Addressing the issue of the “terrorist” listing

 

In this round, the GRP reiterated its position that it cannot tell the US and other foreign  governments to remove the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison from the “terrorist” list, since it recognized the sovereign right of the US and other foreign governments to construct their own “terrorist” lists.  The NDFP reiterated its stand that  tagging the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison as “terrorists” is an infringement on the internal affairs and processes of the Filipino people, and specifically interferes in and jeopardizes the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. 

 

The NDFP thus proposed that in accordance with the Oslo Joint Statements I and II,  the GRP and NDFP take the common position of                           

  1.  renouncing and opposing any encroachment  by any foreign government on the national sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Filipino people over events and entities in the Philippines, and 

  1. reaffirming their continuing commitment to adopt effective measures for the removal of the names of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/New People’s Army (NPA) and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant from the so-called terrorist lists of foreign governments.

In addition, the NDFP proposed specific measures that the GRP can take to reaffirm that the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration, JASIG and CARHRIHL, the aforesaid agreements are valid, legal and binding upon all offices, agencies and instrumentalities of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines because their provisions are in full accord with the laws and the Constitution of the Republic; and to assert that “any act or initiative,  undertaken by the GRP as a party in the peace negotiations to implement the aforementioned stipulations on “terrorist“ listings will similarly uphold the rule of law and the fundamental principles of the Philippine Constitution.

 

Indemnification of Human Rights Victims

 

On the question of indemnification of human rights victims under the martial law regime, the GRP reported that the recovered Marcos ill gotten wealth deposited in the PNB had been transferred to the National Treasury. Since there is a law stipulating that these funds shall be used for no purpose other than the Agrarian Reform Program, the GRP cannot reserve and disburse any amount for said indemnification until there is a law authorizing the same.  However, the GRP panel reiterated its assurance to the NDFP of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s commitment to indemnify the said victims and of the GRP’s commitment  to carry out the needed measures towards this end.

 

The NDFP panel complained that the GRP had not promptly taken the effective measures to enable the victims to receive indemnification.  It noted that the GRP could have undertaken executive measures to set aside the amount intended for the indemnification of the victims before the $ 624 million deposit was transferred to the National Treasury, without need for legislative action. 

 

The GRP panel committed to inquire with concerned government agencies on the following:  a)  whether the funds intended for the said victims are still intact;  b) whether the funds can be transferred to the PNB;  and c)  the legal basis for setting aside a contingency fund and lawyers’ fees incurred by the PCGG, and whether a similar arrangement can still be applied for the indemnification of the victims of human rights violations during martial law, giving priority to the successful plaintiffs in the Human Rights Litigation against Marcos.

 

The GRP panel agreed to to urge its principal to carry out executive measures to realize the compensation of victims of human rights violations of the Marcos regime. As alternative, the GRP shall ensure that the pertinent legislative bill shall be certified and endorsed by its principal as urgent.

 

Release of Political Prisoners

 

On the release of political prisoners or what the GRP prefers to call “alleged political offenders”,  the GRP panel reported that it had released 17 of the 32 whose release had been approved by President Arroyo in January 2001, thus leaving only 15 prisoners to be released.  The GRP panel further reiterated that as in all the other cases, these have to go through the GRP’s judicial processes, which explains the delay of  such cases as the Mamburao Seven and  Donato Continente. 

 

The NDFP panel pointed out that since the Arroyo government came into power, hundreds have been arrested, detained and convicted of common crimes contrary to the Hernandez political offense doctrine.  It urged the GRP, in accordance with the  Oslo Joint Statements I and II  and taking into consideration the precedents of previous administrations in releasing political prisoners,  to immediately review these cases and release the 270 political prisoners in an updated list submitted by KARAPATAN, and to expedite the release of detained women, children, sick and elderly for humanitarian reasons.. 

 

Operationalization of the JMC and acceleration of formal talks

 

The Joint Secretariat (JS) of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) was formed and operationalized in July, as agreed upon by both parties.  The JS has since received complaints of human rights violations, with more than a hundred filed against government forces so far, and one complaint filed against the NPA.  These cases are to  be evaluated by the JMC in its next meeting to determine which cases are to be forwarded to the concerned party for investigation and appropriate action.

 

On the work of the Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER), the RWC-SER Chairpersons gave updates on the status of  their work.  Both RWCs were optimistic that many of the issues that had slowed down the initial discussions in 2001 have been resolved, and thus subsequent discussions can be expected to proceed faster.   The RWCs agreed on changes on the common draft of the Guidelines for the Work of the RWCs-SER and their Sub-Committees of 1 April 2004, which the Panels subsequently discussed. .

 

Postponement of Formal Talks

 

The June round of formal talks did not result in a joint statement, but it was agreed that another round be held on the last week of July 2004.  Subsequently, both sides agreed to move the schedule for the next round to the last week of August 2004.

 

However, the US government announced last August 9 that it would continue to list the CPP and NPA as “foreign terrorist organizations”.  Presumably, this also meant the continued “terrorist” listing of NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Ma. Sison.

The NDFP took this to mean that whatever measures have been taken to address the “terrorist” listing issue have not been effective enough. 

 

Further, the NDFP observed that there has been little progress, if any, on the release of political prisoners and on the indemnification of human rights victims under martial law.  It is on this basis that the NDFP called for a postponement of the formal talks “to give time to the GRP to comply with its obligations under the Oslo Joint Statements I and II”. 

In a forum on the “Updates and Prospects for Peace” in Cagayan de Oro last August, NDFP Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni explained:

 

“It is not possible to continue with the peace negotiations, address the roots of the armed conflict by carrying out social, economic and political reforms to pave the way or lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace without upholding, defending, and asserting the fundamental right of the Filipino people to national sovereignty...  The right to national sovereignty is absolutely necessary to achieve a just and lasting peace.  It is the firm basis for utilizing all our rich human and natural resources for the benefit of the Filipino people and not for foreign powers and multinationals, not for big compradors and landlords.

 

“Therefore, our position is that the GRP must stand up with the Filipino people and the NDFP to assert the right to national sovereignty with regard to the terrorist listing and condemn the US and other foreign powers’ “terrorist“ listing as a flagrant violation of our national sovereignty and an infringement on the inherent right and competence of the Filipino people to judge on Philippine entities, events and circumstances.“

 

The NDFP said that should the GRP fail to fulfil its obligations in accordance with the Oslo Joint Statements, the postponement could lead to a suspension and later could even lead to the termination of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.  Further, the NDFP warned that the non-implementation of the CARHRIHL provision on the indemnification of human rights victims under martial law regime as a casus belli  or “cause for war”. NDFP Chief Political Consultant pointed out that if the GRP cannot implement a CARHRIHL provision indemnifying human rights victims with a paltry sum of $150M which has previously been provided for by decisions of the Swiss Courts and the US District Court of Hawaii, can it be expected to seriously implement an agreement on land reform, national industrialization, and the unshackling of the Philippine economy from foreign control and domination?       

 

Further setbacks rather than advances

 

Hopes for the resumption of formal negotiations suffered another setback when, in a press briefing held last October 19, President GMA reiterated the accusation that the CPP-NPA  were “terrorists”,  saying  “there were growing links between the revolutionary Left and international terrorist organizations” and that, “In view of recent developments, I have instructed the national security agencies of the government to come up with a comprehensive reassessment of our strategy vis-à-vis the CPP-NPA and a review of our negotiations with the NDF.”

 

Pressed by reporters to elaborate and substantiate PGMA’s statement, NSA Adviser Hermogenes Ebdane reportedly said  (the rebels) had received funds from unnamed “socialist groups” but that the funds were “frozen”, and that the “recent developments” referred to were the Tabara incident, the consolidation and expansion of the NPA in the rural areas, the continuing tactical offensives of the NPA against the government and increase the collection of progressive taxes.

 

Rather than address the problem of “terrorist” listing, these statements aggravate it further and evidently confirm the NDFP charge that the GRP has not complied with its February and April 2004 Oslo commitments.  This promptly elicited the following reaction from the NDF:

 

NDFP Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni declared, “(The President was) sabotaging the sincere efforts to push back-channel talks that would pave the way for the resumption of formal peace talks by citing obviously fabricated intelligence reports…Mrs. Arroyo is in effect urging the revolutionary movement to intensify its tactical offensives and raise the level of its people’s war.”

 

Chief Political Consultant Jose Ma. Sison added, “It is highly regrettable that GRP President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has practically shut the door to GRP peace negotiations with the NDFP and has so arrogantly boasted of defeating the revolutionary movement of the people with the sword.”

 

The NDFP points out that the only “funds” that have been frozen are the living allowances of Prof. Sison from the Dutch government; and that the “recent developments” enumerated by Gen. Ebdane could not be described as “terrorist” even under GRP’s laws and legal processes since the GRP has no anti-terrorism law in the first place; nor “criminal”, in the light of the Hernandez doctrine of non-criminalization of political offenses, which the GRP has categorically agreed to uphold with respect to the NDFP under the JASIG and CARHRIHL. 

 

Conclusion

 

The expose on the mind-boggling fortunes amassed by then AFP Comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia gives us another useful insight into the dynamics inside the GRP insofar as the peace negotiations are concerned.  The military has long been known and observed to be a staunch opponent of the peace negotiations.  The argument is that the peace talks only serve to give precious breathing space and area for maneuver for the CPP-NPA, allowing them to escape the AFP dragnets, rest, consolidate and expand.  With bleeding hearts, the AFP generals point to the sacrifices of the poor soldiers which supposedly are  thrown to naught because of the peace talks. 

 

Alas, it now appears that there is nothing these corrupt generals want more than an unjust and lasting war, since it is a rich source for amassing wealth and fortune.  Some say we should not condemn the entire Armed Forces for the sins of one man.  Of course, we do not condemn the foot soldiers who are thrown into battle with worn-out boots, defective kevlar vests and fake helmets.  It is these corrupt generals who condemn them to poverty, hardships and even death in combat.   But we condemn all those in the AFP top brass who, after the Carlos Garcia scam had been exposed, did not raise even a single whimper of anger or protest upon the exposure of the treason that was being committed against the state, against the people, and against their own army, simply because they have long been accomplices to it.

 

Meanwhile, the whole nation continues to suffer from a systemic and chronic economic crisis, sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire of debt and deficits wrought upon us by the impositions of foreign capital and local ruling regimes with a tradition of  acquiescence to, if not collaboration with foreign interests.  There is no indication yet  that  Malacanang will break that tradition, nor the vicious cycle of  deficits, debt, bigger deficits, bigger debts.  It  has instead called for measures that will raise revenues and cut expenses by increasing the burden on the people while reducing social services.  Its aim is not so much to lift the nation out of the crisis, but to assure foreign creditors that we shall continue to pay our debts, and thus persuade them to grant us more loans. 

 

Ironically, the severity of the crises has also, in many occasions, compelled the GRP to resume formal talks with the NDFP after long periods of suspension or even termination. The peace talks never fail to contribute to at least an image of political stability and thus help mitigate the crisis somehow. 

 

The formal talks will resume only when a certain level of political and economic pressure is reached that would compel the GMA government to abide by the agreements it had entered into at a time when it so deeply wanted to win the elections and felt that the formal peace talks were one way of cornering the votes it so desperately needed. The   assertion and upholding of national sovereignty with respect to the talks itself is foremost among these.

 

Rampant and high-level graft and corruption, man-made catastrophes, further domination by and enslavement to foreign capital, exploitation, oppression,  and injustice  continue to devastate our nation and cause immense suffering for our people.  These are the very roots of the armed conflict.  How long GMA will pretend or claim that it’s the other way around – that it is the armed conflict hampering economic development and causing floods and landslides, is anybody’s guess.  #

 

 

 

 

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