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THE GRP-NDFP PEACE TALKS

-- WHY THE SLOW PACE

 

By Atty. Romeo T. Capulong

 

 

            The current GRP-NDFP peace negotiations under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos began in the Hague in August 31, 1992.  Earlier, in September 1990, exploratory talks were held between the two parties represented by Rep. Jose Yap as emissary of President Aquino and Luis Jalandoni and Jose Maria Sison of the NDFP.  Today, after almost four years of bilateral talks, frequently interrupted by deadlocks, long adjournments and one collapse unilaterally declared by the GRP, a valid question which is often asked is :  What have the two parties achieved; or, how far have they gone?  This question becomes more compelling when as is often done, comparisons are made between the GRP-NDFP peace process and the ballyhooed “successes” of the Ramos administration in the peace talks with the MNLF and the RAM/SFP/YOU.

 

            In this presentation I shall endeavor to address this question and a few other current issues including the denial of the application of Jose Maria Sison for political asylum and its causal connection to the  Peace Process, refusal of the GRP to acknowledge the appointment of Brig. Gen. Raymundo Jarque as NDFP consultant and its implications to the binding force and effective implementation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and immunity Guarantees or what is now popularly known as the JASIG.

 

            You all know that as a human rights lawyer I have participated as General Counsel of the NDFP Negotiating Panel in the current as well as in the 1986-87 negotiations.  But let me state at the outset that my views here are my own and not of my clients.

 

Genuine and Lasting Peace

vs. Pacification, Cooptation and Surrender

 

            In my earlier paper entitled “The Ramos Peace Program Towards a Just and Lasting Peace or a Mere Pacification Campaign?”,  I posed the following questions:

 

Will the Ramos government lead to just and lasting peace? Or will it be  a mere pacification program that will attempt to subdue the armed challenges to the state but fail to bring peace in the long run?

 

Has the Ramos government discarded the worn framework of cooptation and surrender, or has it merely repackaged this into a more deceptive, if attractive and sophisticated, peace program?

 

From the start of the negotiations, the NDFP has put forward its position that the ultimate goal of the peace process is genuine and lasting peace not merely ending the armed conflict. And that to achieve this goal the parties to the armed conflict must identify and address the roots of the problems of the Philippine society and not merely with their symptoms. Likewise, throughout the conduct of the negotiations the NDFP has vigorously and consistently asserted its integrity and principles as the national liberation movement with an alternative program that will bring about social emancipation and genuine freedoms and democracy. Corollary to these, the NDFP (1) has ruled out capitulation and submission to the GRP constitution as the framework of the negotiations; (2) in consonance with the bilateral character of the negotiations and its legal status under international law, has upheld and maintained the principles of mutuality, parity and reciprocity not only in the negotiating table and in the joint agreements signed by the parties but also in the eyes of the international community.

 

            At this juncture, and from our perspective as the peace advocates and social activists, is there anything objectionable in these fundamental positions?

 

            It took almost three years of exploratory and preliminary talks from August 1992 to June 1995 before the two panels reached the formal and substantive phase of the negotiations.

 

            The one year period of delay, from June 26,1995 to June 19, 1996 has been due to the initial refusal of the GRP to respect and apply the provisions of the JASIG to NDFP consultant Sotero Llamas, a position which subsequently yielded after one year.

 

            I am aware that there are different public perceptions as to the legal reasons behind the slow pace of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. Regrettably, these perceptions generally come from those who take every opportunity to malign the NDFP and attribute the delays to it, often accusing it of insincerity and intransigence. This is most unfair and totally baseless. And the records will bear me out. In presenting my views on this issue I wish I could avoid indicting the GRP, given my role in the negotiations.

 

            Time-wise, there are a number of reasons why it had taken the two parties four  years before they could agree in principle on the preamble of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the first in the four-topic sequential substantive agenda agreed upon in the Hague on August 31 – September 1, 1992, Breukelen, on June 14 – June 16, 1994, De Bilt in October 10 – October 14, 1994, in Nieuwegein on February 24 – February 26, 1995 all in The  Netherlands, and in  Brussels, Belgium on June 26, 1995 and finally in the Hague on June 19 to June 26, 1996.

 

            In between these six meetings, representatives both parties held discreet meetings and tele-conferences, and regularly exchanged communications to resolve pending issues. During the entire course of the negotiations there is nothing in the records that will show that the NDFP ever proposed, much less declared suspension, termination or unilateral adjournment of the talks. This couldn’t be said of the GRP side which, through its panel chairman Howard Dee, is in habit of either threatening or actually declaring a unilateral suspension or collapse of the talks every time he is personally displeased or confronted with a difficult problem.

 

            In terms of issues  and problems, what is clear in the records is that the two parties have been confronted with these and had tackled them, with the NDFP in the main raising prejudicial questions and critical issues and sincerely struggling its position solely for the purpose of properly steering the course of the talks towards the ultimate objective of attaining a jus and lasting peace; and with the GRP or some elements in it who are opposed to the peace process putting roadblocks and impediments or even deliberately sabotaging the talks.

 

            To the credit of both parties, some difficult questions have been resolved, though not without objections from some quarters from the GRP side.  These are:  mutually acceptable principles as the framework of the talks, foreign neutral venue, mutual safety and immunity guarantees and respect for the revolutionary integrity of the NDFP.

 

            Indeed, there is a short-cut to ending the armed conflict and concluding a peace accord.  Gregorio Honasan, and Nur Misuari have done this!

 

            But may I ask:  Will the acceptance by Prof. Jose Maria Sison of the offer of Speaker Jose de Venecia of a sectoral seat in the House of Representative lead to a just and lasting peace in the country?  This is not the only proposal made by the GRP or some elements in it as a way of ending the armed conflict and thereby attaining “peace”.  Throughout the whole period of negotiations, the GRP has dangled at the revolutionary forces of the NDFP many similar proposals all aimed at decimating, fragmenting, demoralizing, coopting, enticing or entrapping the leaders and members of the CPP and the NPA and other organizations under the NDFP into capitulating or surrendering to the GRP.  We are all similar with these proposals:  ceasefires, both local and national, amnesty, peace zones, participating in the elections, giving up the armed struggle in favor of parliamentary struggle or simply laying down arms and contributing to the GRP program of economic development.

 

            True these catchphrases, eloquently projected by propagandists and psy-war experts of the GRP and unfortunately re-echoed by our trapo leaders, some church leaders, some members of the media, business leaders and even some so-called peace advocates, easily win propaganda points for the GRP, successfully projecting it and its leaders as sincere and reasonable at the expense of the NDFP.  In reality, these are not legitimate proposals in the peace negotiations if the objective is to achieve a genuine and lasting peace. They are clear evidence of bad faith and insincerity that pollute the atmosphere of the talks and deflect the attention of our people away from the roots of our problems that the peace negotiations should tackle.

 

            If there has been delay in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, if it took four years to reach the substantive phase of the talks, if henceforth, there will be more delays or, for that matter, if the talks will fail, the reason will not be difficult to find. And that is: because the GRP has not given up its framework of capitulation and surrender with the sole aim of merely ending the  armed conflict as it successfully did in the talks with the MNLF and the military rebels while the NDFP, on the other hand, sees the negotiation as another form of struggle and an opportunity to tackle the roots of the problems of Philippine society and achieve a genuine and lasting peace.

 

            In this context, GRP panel Chairman Howard Dee’s unilateral and intimidatory imposition of a one year deadline from today will be both futile and inappropriate.

 

  

Jose Maria Sison’s Asylum Case

 

            Under dare of July 22, 1996 the Dutch Ministry of Justice rendered a decision denying Jose Maria Sison’s application for political asylum in the Netherlands. This is the third time the Dutch Ministry of Justice denied Prof. Sison’s applications. Earlier, on July 13, 1990 and March 26, 1993 similar denials were made by the same Ministry. In the first two denials, the decision of the Dutch Ministry of Justice were reversed by the Raad van State of Council of State, an independent and impartial tribunal outside of the Dutch Government’s Executive and Political Department composed of senior non-political members of known probity, competence and independence which has jurisdiction to review the decisions of the Dutch Ministry of Justice in political asylum cases.

 

            Prof. Sison had announced he would contest their third denial as he did in the first two and his Dutch lawyer had already taken the required steps to perfect the appeal in the so-called Alien’s Court, if the decision would still be adverse, Prof. Sison may still appeal to the Dutch Supreme Court and from the latter tribunal an appeal may still be taken to the European Commission on Human Rights, a European Tribunal vested by a treaty to review the decisions of the Dutch National Government on human rights cases.

 

            While all these appellate remedies are being availed of, the decision to expel Prof. Sison from the Netherlands is indefinitely stayed by the law. I am not in a position to predict with a degree of accuracy the length of time that the appeal process will take and correspondingly stay the expulsion order but his Dutch lawyer had given assurance that it will take a couple of years barring the successful interference and manipulation of the Dutch and European judicial processes by the Dutch, US and Philippine governments.

 

            This brings us to a discussion of the real reasons behind the determined efforts of the Dutch government to expel Prof. Sison from the Netherlands in clear violation of his rights under international law and Dutch National Law.

 

            Jose Ma. Sison’s role as a chief political consultant in the negotiations is immense value not only to the NDFP but also to the entire peace process itself. At crucial junctures in the peace process when both sides stuck rigidly to their positions and collapse was imminent, it was Prof. Sison’s wise fair counsel which broke the deadlock. The first breakthrough in the GRP-NDFP negotiations came with the signing of the now popularly known The Hague Joint Declaration of September 1, 1992 by the emissary of the GRP Hon. Jose V. Yap and representative of the NDFP Vice-Chair Luis Jalandoni and approved by their respective principals – President Ramos and Manuel Romero.

            I recall that Congressman Yap who as emissary was duly authorized in writing by Pres. Ramos and who was, and still is, Chairperson of the Committee on National Defense of the House of Representatives, and State Counsel Teresita de Castro, the GRP Legal adviser, were both unyielding in their position that the NDFP must lay down arms as a precondition for the peace  talks.  It was Jose Ma. Sison’s fair compromise formulations which broke this deadlock, and now stipulated in paragraph 4 of the Hague Joint Declaration that the “holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations”.  The brief Hague Joint declaration is also the fundamental and landmark of document which set the “common goal” of the peace  negotiations in the “attainment of a just and lasting peace”.  It also provides four major topics constituting the agenda of the formal talks and the sequence and mode of tackling these four topics.

 

            In sum, it was the Hague Joint Declaration which in the open is an NDFP proposal and particularly of Jose Maria Sison, that not only broke the deadlock on the prejudicial question of framework of the talks but also set the course of the ongoing and future talks in the correct objective and right track. In my view, it is also a model document worthy of a serious study and consideration by all peace participants and networks.

 

            The narration of Jose Maria Sison’s role in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and our quest for a just and lasting peace belongs to historians. I made reference to these matter merely to underscore the fact that the denial of Sison’s application for political asylum is a political decision of the Dutch government, made in deference to the pressures of the Philippine government and the U.S. government, in violation of the rights of Sison under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees (Refugee Treaty) the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) as well as the Dutch Alien’s Law.

           

            It is significant to note that the Dutch government in its decision admitted that Prof. Sison has a well-grounded fear of persecution by the Philippine government on account of his political beliefs entitled to the protection under the Refugee Treaty and applicable Dutch Law. But it rejected none the less the application because of alleged complicity in alleged bloody purges of its non members for the NPA in 1985 and 1988 and to protect the “integrity and credibility” of The Netherlands in its relations with sovereign states.

 

            Shortly after the July 22, 1996 decision, the GRP panel took the position that it has now become “diplomacy inappropriate” to hold further talks in The Netherlands because of the expulsion order, and renewed its position that talks be held in the Philippines, contrary to Section 6 of JASIG that formal talks be held in a foreign neutral venue.

 

            Holding the talks in the Philippines for that matter anywhere outside of The Netherlands will effectively prevent Jose Maria Sison from performing his role as a Chief Political Consultant to the NDFP. Holding such talks in the Philippines will also enable pro-government vested interest and forces to exert pressure on the NDFP to capitulate or yield to all the demands and enticements of the GRP, including a premature ceasefire, amnesty program, in the course of the talks and laying down arms or surrender. As in 1986 this will enable the Philippine military and police to surveil and gather valuable intelligence information about the NDFP forces. Hence, the expulsion order is intended not only to de-stabilize Prof. Sison and his family but also to place the Ramos government in a better strategic position to out-maneuver the NDFP in the peace talks into capitulation.

 

            The decision against Prof. Sison by the Dutch government rests on very flimsy and whimsical grounds. Prof. Sison allegedly committed heinous crimes when he was either in the Marcos military prison in 1985 and when he was already in Utrech in 1988. I wish I had the time to discuss in detail here the contents of the paper I presented in a parallel NGO forum on the occasion of the Second UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993. Let me just say that as late as August, 1991 the Philippine government filed criminal charges against Prof. Sison for murder in connection with the Plaza Miranda bombing that occurred in August 1971.

 

            Prof. Sison was acquitted by the City Prosecutor and the Department of Justice of this charge. In September 1988 Prof. Sison was likewise charged with subversion before the Regional Trial Court in Pasig. This never mentioned any of the alleged purges and become academic when the Anti-Subversion Law, R.A. 1700 was repealed by the current dispensation. But the point is: at no time in the past and up to now has Prof. Sison been charged by the Philippine Government in its own court and forum with any of the crimes imputed to him and which the Dutch government used as a factual basis for its expulsion order and regarding which Prof. Sison was not furnished any copy much less given the opportunity to refute.

 

            This is an implied but indubitable admission that the GRP has no iota of evidence and does not even believe that Prof. Sison was in any way involved in these crimes. Incidentally, the GRP filed charges against Satur Ocampo and Carolina Malay in connection with the 1988 alleged purge. They were both acquitted by the RTC Judge Maximiano Asuncion of Quezon City.

 

            My friends, in connection with the peace negotiations, it has become common and even fashionable to criticize, malign and ridicule the NDFP and its leaders. Some of these attacks are vicious and malicious. Some come from supposedly enlightened or politicized members of our society.

 

            The NDFP has often been accused of bad faith, dilatory tactics, having a secret agenda, intransigence and so forth. With due respect, my sense is that some of these critics are coming not from an honest disagreement as to the way the NDFP has conducted itself in the peace negotiations but from a fear of its politics and ideology and its forms of struggle, particularly the armed struggle. Some may simply be misinformed about the negotiations.

 

            My appeal to you now is:  let us critically examine and analyze the facts and the records.  If we are convinced that the NDFP, far from being insincere and unreasonable, is merely asserting its legitimate rights as a revolutionary movement and steering the peace negotiations in the right course and towards the objective of a genuine and lasting peace;  if we are convinced that the GRP is not sincerely interested in achieving a just and lasting peace; if we are convinced that  the GRP is merely implementing a program of capitulation by making Prof. Sison do another Nur Misuari or Gringo Honasan  --  then I ask everyone, all peace advocates, all concerned Filipinos, all those who are for meaningful change in society, to shift gears and aim   our efforts at criticizing and convincing the GRP not to use the GRP-NDFP talks as a forum for the capitulation of the NDFP but as an effective instrument for a comprehensive peace accord that will remove all the unjust and oppressive structures in our society and build a truly democratic, just, and prosperous and sovereign nation.

 

 

 

 

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