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Update on and Prospects for the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations

Rey Claro Casambre

Executive Director, Philippine Peace Center

April 2005

 

Updates

 

1.   The formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) continues to be in   recess.  The informal talks held last December 17-18, 2004 in Utrecht, The Netherlands, failed to produce an agreement to resume formal talks.

 

It will be recalled that the NDFP called for a postponement of the formal talks last August 2004, “in order to give the GRP time to comply with its commitments” made in the Oslo Statements of February 14 and April 2, 2004.  These commitments include the following:

Ø      taking effective measures, in accordance with The Hague Declaration, the JASIG and the CARHRIHL, to resolve the problem of the “terrorist” listing of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Jose Ma. Sison.

Ø      release political prisoners, especially those whose release had been approved by  GRP President Arroyo in 2001 upon recommendation of the DILG, DND, and DOJ in 2001

Ø      indemnification of human rights victims of the martial law regime

 

Contrary to GRP claims, the NDFP has not demanded as a precondition to the resumption of formal talks the lifting of the “terrorist” tag. What the NDFP has proposed is for the GRP  to make an official statement to the effect that (1) the GPR and NDFP both uphold Philippine sovereignty and oppose any move by any foreign power to interfere in Philippine affairs, and (2)  the “terrorist” tag has no basis in the GRP Constitution or laws.  The GRP has so far refused to make such statement.

 

2.  The GRP instead proposed that the NDFP declare an indefinite or prolonged ceasefire with the GRP in order to prove that it is not a terrorist organization.  From the outset, the NDFP has rejected and denounced this as a proposal for a negotiated capitulation, and as a precondition that negates the inherent character of the negotiations, in violation of the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration.

 

3.   The meetings of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) have not taken place, with the GRP refusing to hold the meetings until the formal talks resume.   However, there is nothing in previous agreements which provides that the JMC meetings cannot be held while formal talks are recessed or suspended.  The “Operational Guidelines for the JMC” state that the JMC should meet once every quarter.

 

4. The GRP reconstituted its negotiating panel for the GRP-NDFP negotiations.  Chairman Silvestre Bello III has been removed from the panel and replaced by former DOLE Secretary and AIM Dean Nieves Confesor.  Other members of the new panel are: Anabel Abaya, Paulynn Sicam, Rene Sarmiento and Sedfrey Candelaria.  The NDFP has described this as a “phoney negotiating panel”, because “its sole objective is to prevent the resumption of the talks by preconditioning these with the pacification and capitulation of the NDFP through a demand for ‘indefinite ceasefire’…”

 

5. Not only has there been no significant movement in the direction of the release of political prisoners and indemnification of human rights victims under martial law. There has been an alaming wave of killings of progressive mass activists and leaders at a rate that surpasses even the worst periods of martial law.   Since November, starting with the Hacienda Luisita massacre,  more than thirty have been murdered in cold blood, while at least five have been abducted and are still missing. 

 

What the victims had in common was a tested and proven commitment to fight for social and economic reforms. These are the same reforms that are needed to eradicate the roots of social conflict, whether armed or unarmed.  In the truest sense, these victims were all self-sacrificing and courageous fighters for a just and lasting peace.

 

Aside from the Hacienda Luisita strikers and supporters who were killed in the hail of gunfire coming from army and police forces protecting the Cojuangco estate, among the prominent victims are the following:

Ø      Marcelino Beltran – Chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlac, key witness to the massacre of Hacienda Luisita strikers and supporters

Ø      Abelardo Ladera – Tarlac City Councilor and staunch supporter of the Hacienda Luisita  workers and farmers, who brought the Hacienda Luisita problem to the attention of the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels in The Netherlands in the December informal talks

Ø      Fr. William Tadena – IFI priest, head of the IFI human rights desk in Tarlac, PCPR member,  supporter of the Hacienda Luisita workers and farmers

Ø      Romeo Sanchez – BAYAN Sec Gen and Bayan Muna Coordinator for Ilocos Region

Ø      Atty Felidito Dacut – human rights lawyer, Bayan Muna Coordinator for Eastern Visayas

Ø      Victor Concepcion –SecGen, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon-Pampanga, Anakpawis Coordinator of Mexico, Pampanga

 

Not to be spared by the murderers is UN Ad Litem Judge Romeo T. Capulong, who is also the Senior Legal Counsel of the NDFP Negotiating Panel in the peace negotiations. Justice Capulong has become a target most likely because of the key role he played in gathering the facts from eyewitness accounts of the Hacienda Luisita massacre, which resulted in a factual report submitted to the NBI and the Senate Committee on Justice.

Atty. Capulong was the clear target of an assassination attempt last February 9, 2004 and continues to be in danger as he is being hounded and stalked by hostile surveillance teams if not the assassins themselves.

 

Prospects

 

The only way the GRP-NDFP formal peace talks could resume and the negotiations could get underway is if these proceed in accordance with the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration and other bilateral agreements, as it had done in the past years. 

 

 

The NDFP continues to insist that (1)  it will never agree to an indefinite ceasefire that is tantamount to a negotiated capitulation,  (2) the GRP must comply with its commitments before the formal talks resume, and (3) the talks must resume in accordance with the 1992 Hague Declaration and other bilateral agreements.

 

On the other hand,  newly installed GRP Negotiating Panel Chair has reiterated that a “cessation of hostilities” is “very important” for creating a favorable climate for informal and formal talks.  Unfortunately, this language sounds dangerously close to turning upside-down the sequence of the substantive agenda as agreed upon in the 1992 Hague Declaration and other subsequent bilateral agreements.

 

Aside from calling for a prolonged or indefinite ceasefire as a precondition for the resumption of the talks, the GRP has repeatedly announced that it is reviewing its strategy in the peace negotiations with the NDFP.  The first announcement was made after the National Security Council meeting in October 2004, when the GRP also alleged that the NPA had links with international terrorist groups. Despite queries from media, the GRP gave no details to substantiate this allegation.

 

Further, the GRP has not taken any significant action to investigate, much less put a stop to the wave of killings, abductions and other forms of harassment of activists and leaders of progressive mass organizations. President Arroyo and the entire cabinet has been deafeningly silent on this.  The only government statements on the killings come from the AFP, and these point the accusing finger at the NPA and/or factions in the NPA, or victims of the NPA purportedly exacting vengeance.  All this even before any investigation could be made, and apparently intended to preempt any investigation.

 

Progressive organizations and a broad spectrum of concerned sectors decry government's silence and inaction as tacit approval of these atrocities and tantamount to a policy of ruthless suppression of legitimate dissent. 

 

Thus, the prospects for resumption of formal talks at this point appear to be dim.

 

The non-resumption of the formal talks will continue to aggravate the deteriorating economic and political situation.  This could compel the GRP to abandon its insistence on a prolonged or indefinite ceasefire, review its compliance or non-compliance of prior agreements with the NDFP and take certain measures that could restore goodwill and confidence and eventually lead to the resumption of the peace talks.  Or, it could reach a breaking point when it would be too late to resume formal talks even if the GRP wanted to, as what happened to former President Estrada in the last months of his rule.

 

In any case, the people can be the decisive factor if they can  take a strong position and make their voices heard on the resumption of peace talks and other related issues.  Peace advocates such as the Pilgrims for Peace and other concerned sectors can get together such as they did three years ago and make a powerful call for the resumption of the formal talks in accordance with the 1992 Hague Joint Declaration. #

 

 

 

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