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By Edre U. Olalia[1]



Kailan uli magpi-peace talks? When will the peace talks resume again?


This usual question that my friends invariably ask me has acquired a new ring to it.


And this forum today could not have come at a more interesting time.


It has been a year since the last round of formal talks in the peace negotiations were held in Oslo, Norway and everyone is wondering whether it has any chance of being revived especially at a time where the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime is tottering and wriggling to survive its gravest political crisis due to allegations of wholesale electoral fraud and unmitigated corruption but also mainly due its unabashed puppetry, anti-people economic programs, and ruthless violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. 


Upon your invitation, allow me then to share with you my personal take on the current status of the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and venture to advance what are its prospects under the tottering and wobbly Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime from the perspective of both a student and participant to the peace negotiations.


Let me review and outline the significant events and outstanding issues that provide the necessary context to the present impasse in the formal peace talks. 


According to The Hague Joint Declaration and the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWC Agreement), the peace negotiations should already be focusing on the second of the four substantive agenda, which is on Socio-Economic Reforms.  This is so because the first agreement of the substantive agenda – the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL – had already been inked in March 1998.  What should sequentially follow after the first two agenda are the negotiations on political and constitutional reforms and, lastly, on end of hostilities and disposition of forces.


We recall that in November 2000 – when the calls for the ouster of Erap had snowballed irreversibly - then Vice President Arroyo, in a dialogue with various progressive organizations, categorically promised to pursue the peace negotiations when she becomes president after these had been terminated by Erap.  Thanks in no small measure to the same progressive organizations, she indeed assumed the presidency in January 2001.


President Arroyo went through the motions of trying to implement her promise.  She sent special emissaries who met with the NDFP in the Netherlands and agreed to resume formal talks in April  2001 in Oslo, Norway, in accordance with previously signed agreements.  She subsequently reconstituted the GRP Negotiating Panel.


As a measure of goodwill and in the exercise of its political power, the NDFP released POW Major Noel Buan before the start of the talks in April 2001.  The formal talks continued in June 2001 and the Parties were in the thick of actual negotiations on socio-economic reforms when it was abruptly recessed indefinitely by the GRP purportedly in protest of the death of Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, a well know human rights violator, murderer and torturer according to Amnesty International. 


In September 2001, however, the GRP decided to resume formal peace talks with the NDFP.  But just as members of the GRP Panel were to board their planes for Europe and when practically the whole NDFP Panel and consultants were already in Oslo, then defense chief Gen. Angelo Reyes unilaterally reversed the decision thru the Cabinet Oversight Committee.


Shortly thereafter, in November 2001, the GRP through Speaker Jose De Venecia dangled what they called the “Final Peace Agreement,” an agreement of generalities which reduced the decades-long civil war to a mere two-page document that is unclear on everything except the surrender and capitulation of the NDFP.  For the most part, it provided for the unacceptable and unrealistic idea of the instant demobilization of the NPA within a few months. It was, of course, rejected by the NDFP as it insultingly glossed over the roots of the armed conflict.


In early 2002, backchannel talks were held between GRP emissaries and the NDFP in The Netherlands with the GRP presenting a new version of a “Final Peace Agreement.”  Again the NDFP replied that the GRP draft agreement was a violation of The Hague Joint Declaration because it did not address the roots of the armed conflict and was a document of capitulation and pacification. 


Then in August 2002, after visiting Manila, US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the inclusion of the CPP and the NPA in the list of so-called “foreign terrorist organizations.”  The US Treasury Department later followed suit and  announced financial sanctions including the freezing of assets on the CPP-NPA and the NDFP Chief Political consultant Prof. Jose Ma. Sison.  At the instance of the US government, the Dutch government likewise declared the three as “terrorists” and took the same financial sanctions on them, especially on Sison whose bank account of a paltry amount as basic subsistence allowance received as a recognized political refugee was frozen.  The European Union followed suit in October 2002. 


It should be an indisputable fact by now that the GRP had a direct hand in the inclusion of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison in these lists.  Then Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople himself announced that a GRP special mission which he headed successfully campaigned in Europe for their inclusion in these lists.


Secretary Ople openly boasted that the GRP is using the terrorist listing issue as a leverage to force the NDFP to capitulate. He declared that “the purpose of the diplomatic initiative was to bring pressure on the Communists to agree to go back to the negotiating table and discuss a comprehensive peace settlement that could lead to the end of the decades-long armed struggle . . . We want them to lay down their arms and transform themselves into a peaceful political party capable of competing in the constitutional arena, in peaceful and democratic elections.”


Expectedly and with justified moral outrage, the NDFP insisted on the delisting of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison as it has no factual and legal basis and that is contrary to the principle of national sovereignty enshrined in the Hague Joint Declaration, the guarantees under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG, the pertinent rights and freedoms under the CARHRIHL. It also said that the GRP clearly violated these bilateral agreements by its active campaigns for the “terrorist” listing among foreign governments. 


But all these happened before President Arroyo announced that she will not run for a full term of her own.  True to the character of her presidency, she reneged on her promise in December 2003 when she announced her candidacy in the now highly dubious May 2004 presidential elections.  Almost immediately thereafter, the NDFP then received information that the GRP would withdraw and not insist anymore on the “Final Peace Agreement”


In January 2004, members of both Panels signed the Joint Statement for the Resumption of the Formal Peace Negotiations.  In February 2004, the two Panels met in Norway and issued the Oslo Joint Statement which included agreements and commitments on the following: Framework of the Negotiations; Role of the Third Party Facilitator;   Effective Measures Regarding the “Terrorist” Listing; Formation of the Joint Monitoring Committee; Indemnification of the Victims of Human Rights Violations Under the Marcos Regime; Work of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms; and Confidence Building Measures. 


In late March to early April 2004, the two Panels met again and issued the Second Oslo Joint Statement which contained follow-up agreements on substantially the same issues above and including the Release of Prisoners and Detainees.  In accordance with Oslo Joint Statement I, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) was convened in Oslo, Norway, at the sidelines of the formal peace talks.  The JMC is the mechanism tasked to monitor the implementation of the CARHRIHL.


Pursuant to the CARHRIHL, the JMC met again in mid-April in Manila to convene the Joint Secretariat (JS), the Philippine-based staff of the JMC.  On 4 June 2004, the offices of the JS in the heart of Quezon City were opened to the public to receive complaints for alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law against both Parties.  However, due to the terrorist listing and subsequent actions of the  EU, the establishment and operation of the NDFP Monitoring Committee office in the Netherlands is still unrealized. 


To date, the JS has received 386 complaints against the GRP and 8 complaints against the NDFP.  But the JMC has yet to reconvene to discuss and act upon these complaints solely because the GRP has refused to do so until the formal talks are resumed, contrary to the objectives of the CARHRIHL and the mandate of the JMC to meet at least once every three months independently of the formal talks.  Thus, the GRP is sacrificing what remedial steps could be taken to address more urgent cases like surveillance, torture, disappearances and summary executions. 


In the latter part of June 2004, when the results of the supposed winner of the presidential elections were still hanging in the air, both Panels again held formal talks and agreed to further follow-up steps and agreements and the continuation of the negotiations on substantially the same outstanding issues. 


The GRP Panel, however, initially presented itself as a “transition team” as it was not yet clear who would be the declared winner of the GRP presidential elections.  But when it became clear that valid obstacles and questions on the results of the elections were deftly overcome by Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts and she would be declared winner, the GRP Panel refused to sign a Joint Statement that accurately reflected the discussions, agreements and commitments that were reached between the Parties. This, to my mind, smacks of opportunism and betrays the real intention of the GMA regime in entering into the formal talks again.


In early August 2004, the US renewed the listing of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison as “foreign terrorists”, leaving the NDFP with no other alternative except to postpone the next round of formal talks slated that month until such time that the GRP can fulfill its obligations under Oslo Joint Statements 1 and 2. These obligations include the adoption and implementation of effective measures to remove the “terrorist” listings, the release of political prisoners who are all unjustly imprisoned for common crimes and the prompt indemnification of the victims of torture, disappearance and summary execution under the Marcos dictatorship, giving priority to the successful plaintiffs in the US Human Rights Case against Marcos.


In the same month, the humane treatment and safe release of POWs Lieutenant Fidelino and Pfc. Nemeño by the NPA in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and its Protocols and the CARHRIHL were successfully implemented which provided another  proof that the allegations against the CPP and NPA as ‘terrorists” are totally false. 


Still, the NDFP was willing to give the GRP a chance to resolve outstanding issues of the two Oslo Joint Statements and fulfill its obligations.  But even backchannel talks that could pave the way for the resumption of formal talks were postponed several times in October 2004 by Mrs. Arroyo because she wanted a review of the negotiations on the basis of an obviously incredible intelligence report of supposed increasing links between the NDFP and “international terrorist organizations” – wild allegations that the GRP cannot substantiate as they are simply not true. 


In December 2004, a GRP mission met with the NDFP, conveying threats of assassination, extradition and more repression as a consequence of the “terrorist” listing in exchange for a “prolonged or indefinite ceasefire.”  “Prolonged or indefinite ceasefire” is violative of the Hague Joint Declaration and the RWC Agreement as the question of cessation of hostilities is the last item in the substantive agenda after agreements on socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms have respectively been signed and agreed upon and approved by the Principals of both Parties. This proposal, according to the NDFP, “poisoned the backchannel line of communications that was meant to facilitate the removal of obstacles to the resumption of the formal talks.” The NDFP declared that it is ‘desirous of resuming the formal talks but the GRP had set its capitulation as a precondition” in the guise of a proposal for a prolonged or indefinite ceasefire.


In its statements, the NDFP has always declared its willingness to resume formal peace talks as long as the GRP resolves outstanding issues like the “terrorist” listing, which the NDFP considers a blatant violation of the principle of national sovereignty for it allows foreign governments to interfere and dictate on Philippine affairs and circumstances.  The GRP does not even have an anti-terrorism law in its statutes and Prof. Sison does not even have any formal criminal complaint against him in the Philippines or any other country for that matter. 


On the indemnification of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, the NDFP has learned that the money earmarked for the victims had been transferred from an escrow account into the general fund at the height of the campaign season. Moreover, many political prisoners earlier identified and committed to be rightfully released by the GRP still languish in jails all over the country for various untenable legal reasons. 


In fact, one of them, a septuagenarian, was later killed at the height of the assault on the Abu Sayaff hold-outs in Bicutan prison.  Another, the longest-held political prisoner in the country who was unjustly charged and convicted of the killing in 1989 of a US army intelligence officer and whose case had been a perennial subject on the issue of political prisoners in the peace negotiations, had already fully served the maximum of his reduced sentence a week ago.


In January this year, a high level team of GRP officials went the rounds of Europe to lobby for the continued listing of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison and for the latter’s forced return to the country despite his being a recognized political refugee. 


Then came the new wave of killings and disappearances of unarmed, defenseless civilians starting from the November 2004 daylight carnage at Hacienda Luisita and reaching its most odious levels in the bloody month of March this year, bringing to about 32 the victims of summary executions and about 5 cases of disappearances. 


In fact, since 2001, about 53 leaders and members of Bayan Muna have been killed while 14 are still missing to this very day. Since Mrs. Arroyo came to power, 19 human rights workers and 6 churchpeople have been killed in cold-blood.  Among journalists, 5 have been killed this year, bringing to 68 the number of those slain since Marcos. Since January this year, 4 members of the legal profession have been killed while 11 other cases of violent attacks, harassment and assassination attempts against lawyers have also been reported in the first quarter of this year alone. This is not to mention the various forms of thousands of human rights violations brutally unleashed against civilians, mostly poor farmers. 


Most of the victims are either leaders or members of progressive organizations who work for the democratic rights of the people and towards a just and lasting peace, the avowed objective of the peace negotiations. The rest are ordinary civilians merely suspected of sympathizing or having links with the revolutionary movement. 


And in open violation of the JASIG signed by both Parties in February 1995 and which should protect all negotiators, consultants and other persons duly authorized to participate in the work of the peace negotiations, two serious assassination attempts were made last March and still continue to be made on NDFP Negotiating Panel Senior Legal Consultant and United Nations ad litem judge Romeo T. Capulong.  Of course, you already know of the previous attempts against the life of Prof. Sison in 1999 and 2000 and the proposal to assassinate him by Norberto Gonzales before the National Security Group in the cabinet. 


The NDFP condemned these attempts and warned that any physical harm done to any negotiators, consultants and staff involved in the peace negotiations will irrevocably end the peace negotiations. Later, the residence of two independent nominees and a contracted staff of the NDFP-JS was cased as well by armed men. Obviously, these incidents of harassment and intimidation put into serious jeopardy and do not auger well for the continuation of the peace negotiations and the work of the JMC.


Meantime, Mrs. Arroyo reconstituted the GRP Negotiating Panel late March this year, replacing the old one with rabid anti-communists and “clerico-fascists” whose mandate is seen by the NDFP as essentially to put an end to the peace negotiations under the Arroyo government.


The NDFP International Office clarified again that the resumption of the formal talks must comply with The Hague Joint Declaration and other signed agreements and holds the GRP “de facto president” Arroyo responsible for having cumulatively built obstacles to such resumption.


In view of all the foregoing, Prof. Sison was quoted to have assessed last May this year that the prospects for the resumption of the formal peace talks under Mrs. Arroyo are “dim, if not nil.” 


To help break the impasse, consultations with the Norwegian government which is acting as the Third Party Facilitator in the peace negotiations were held just this early June. The NDFP reiterated that fundamental issues which amount to prejudicial questions, i.e., they should first be resolved before resuming the formal talks and proceeding to the other issues, must be addressed. These include (1) the “terrorist” listing that is violative of the Hague Joint Declaration, the JASIG and the CARHRIHL; (2) the GRP demand for the NDFP’s capitulation through a “Final Peace Agreement” and/or Ceasefire which is in violation of the Hague Joint Declaration; and (3) the security of the NDFP Panel negotiators, consultants and other personnel as provided for under the JASIG.


The NDFP initiated and submitted to the representatives of the Norwegian government a proposed concrete package of solutions corresponding to these prejudicial questions.  These are: (1) a joint statement by the two Parties to the peace negotiations to condemn and repudiate the “terrorist listings” and for the GRP to renew its pledge to comply with existing agreements and pursue effective measures; (2) discussion of the question of ceasefire and items nos. 3 and 4 of the substantive agenda by special representatives of the Principals of the Parties after the resumption of the formal talks; and (3) condemnation by the GRP Principal of the threats against Judge Capulong, other consultants and advocates of peace and human rights in relation to the JASIG and the CARHRIHL. 


On June 23-27, the Special Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (SCPRU) of the House of Representatives led a Peace Mission headed by its chairperson, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, the former chief negotiator for the NDFP in the failed ceasefire talks in the late 1980s with the Cory government. It  held a dialogue with the NDFP Panel in Utrecht, the Netherlands in the modest hope of “initiating discussions on ways and means to facilitate the resumption of the formal talks at the earliest possible time, and to accelerate the process towards attaining the objectives of a durable peace, national reconciliation and unity among our people.”


However, the mandate given by Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to the Peace Mission was both arrogant and hallucinatory, as it includes not only the revival of the peace talks but, in one fell swoop, supposedly “putting and end to more than 35 years of conflict and bloodshed, with a view to achieving within six months the objectives of an honorable negotiated political settlement, full participation of the Communist parties in succeeding Philippine elections and a phase-out of the New People’s Army and private armies,” which, on its face, is the old  discarded “Final Peace Agreement.”


The Peace Mission was also earlier briefed by Secretary Ging Deles of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process through a very telling powerpoint presentation entitled “A Just End to the Peace Process,” which depicted her distorted view of the peace negotiations and its objectives.


The NDFP Panel and the Peace Mission, notwithstanding this incredible mandate, had productive discussions and jointly crafted a Communiqué which contained proposed resolutions to the prejudicial questions mentioned above and the recognition of the urgent need to resume the formal talks in view of the serious socio-economic and political situation in the country.


The Communiqué also recognized that the “terrorist” listings have jeopardized, impeded and adversely affected the continuity of the formal talks and that ways be found to overcome its unwelcome implications and consequences. It further made concrete proposals on the Joint Monitoring Committee, the release of political prisoners and the indemnification of human rights claimants. At bottom, the NDFP declared that it is ready to resume the formal talks with the GRP counterpart within the third quarter this year upon agreement to resolve the prejudicial questions in accordance with the proposed solutions to it.


But Speaker De Venecia, upon his arrival in Utrecht to witness the signing of the Communiqué which by that time had accommodated his suggested changes, further wanted the wholesale deletion of sections which was the very meat of the Communique. These were the sections  on resolving the prejudicial questions, on  the urgency to resume the formal talks, the effect of and steps to overcome the “terrorist listings,” on the JMC, on political prisoners and indemnification, on the question of ceasefire  as well as on the threats to those involved in the peace talks and the killings and disappearances of human rights advocates, workers peasants, progressive lawyers and church people.


In replacement, Speaker de Venecia simplistically proposed that these matters be perfunctorily referred for discussions and resolution in the preliminary talks between the two Parties. The NDFP conveyed its principled position that it could not accept the drastic and belated changes the Speaker wanted. The NDFP said that the Communiqué was “ultimately torpedoed” by the Speaker. 


While all these were going on thousands of kilometers away from home, the boiling pot of the political crisis further sparked by the “Gloriagate” tapes threatened to spill over and the ringing calls for the resignation and ouster of Mrs. Arroyo continued to reverberate across the nation and through different voices, groups, organizations and institutions. 


On June 28, after Mrs. Arroyo belatedly confessed - amidst mounting public clamor -  on the notorious taped phone conversations she had with a high election official she herself appointed, Prof. Sison categorically said that the regime of Mrs. Arroyo “must come to an end for its grave crimes against the people.”  


What then are the prospects of the formal peace talks in particular and the peace negotiations in general under this unpopular, wobbly and tottering regime? Personally, based on a reading of the events, circumstances, status and pertinent statements, the resumption of the formal peace talks is practically on hold and the peace negotiations, as another form of struggle of the people, placed in the backburner for the meantime.


On June 29, Prof. Sison said that “so long as it stays in power, the Arroyo regime will continue to prevent the resumption of the formal talks in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations” and that “these can move forward only when the Arroyo regime is replaced by a government that is not extremely servile to the US, that complies with The Hague Joint Agreement and other agreements and that agrees with the NDFP to address the roots of the armed conflict through social, economic an political reforms.” 


As early as August last year when the US renewed the listing of the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison as “terrorists,” Prof. Sison had already said that “if the GRP refuses to come to terms with the NDFP on such fundamental issues as genuine national independence, democracy, social justice and basic reforms, then there is really no basis for continuing the peace negotiations” under Mrs. Arroyo’s fascist, puppet, deceitful, murderous, corrupt, anti-people regime.


Also as early as October last year, Prof. Sison has already discerned that “a broad united front is steadily developing to seek the removal of the current ruling clique from power.” 

In his June 29 statement a few days ago, Prof. Sison as Chief Political Consultant of the NDFP declared that “the Filipino people must remove Arroyo and her ultra-reactionary cohorts from power as soon as possible to pave the way for the resumption of formal talks in the peace negotiations……as they have consistently sabotaged the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.” 


In conclusion, my personal view from what has been surveyed and studied above is that the formal peace talks will only resume when a regime that is everything else except what Mrs. Arroyo’s hated regime personifies, negotiates in earnest with the NDFP to address the roots of the armed conflict and really work for a just and lasting peace for the people. #


[1] Paper read at the forum on “Status of Peace Talks and Prospects Under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Regime,” 7 July 2005, Our Lady of the Pillar Colleges, Cauayan City, Isabela, sponsored by the Justice and Peace Desk, Social Action Center of the Diocese of Ilagan, Isabela and KARAPATAN-Cagayan Valley.


Atty. Olalia is one of the independent nominees of the NDFP to the Joint Secretariat (JS) of the Joint Monitoring Committee created under the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). He is also legal consultant of the NDFP-JS and the NDFP Negotiating Panel. 







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