Solve problems, overcome obstacles.National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni is determined to exhaust all diplomatic and principled means to ensure that the peace talks with the Government of the Philippines (GPH) pushes through. Even as others might find it understandable to throw in the towel given how the GPH panel — specifically negotiator Alex Padilla — has been rudely behaving and speaking, Jalandoni and the rest of the NDFP’s peace panel including Coni Ledesma and Fidel V. Agcaoili remain steadfast in pushing for the talks.
In a forum sponsored by Pilgrims for Peace, an ecumenical formation of religious groups and lay associations, Jalandoni and Ledesma gave the background story on the not-so-rosy developments in the negotiations with the Aquino administration’s so-called peace makers.
There is no doubting the panelists’ sincerity when it comes to the peace talks. Jalandoni answered at length what exactly is going wrong in the talks — the GPH’s refusal to uphold the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) and honor its word to release the NDFP consultants in the custody of its armed forces — but not once did he betray frustration.
“This is not something we can give up on easily. We are talking about our country’s chances of securing a just and lasting peace and putting an end to the armed conflict. These are aspirations that all peace-loving Filipinos share, and we should persevere in the peace talks. If there are problems, we have to find solutions to them; if there are obstacles, then they should be overcome,” he said.
In the last month, the NDFP and the GPH have been exchanging sharp words over the media. The fiery exhange was triggered by loose statements made by GPH’s Padilla and another panelist Ding Deles saying that (1) the Jasig is no longer operable; and (2) the GPH was under no obligation to release any political prisoners, much less captured NDFP consultants.
“The NDFP always sits at the negotiating table with a readiness to talk peace and a preparedness to uphold previously signed agreements with the GPH. These are serious matters which we all take pains to handle correctly and with sincerity,” he said. He seemed unable to hold back a measure of disappointment when he explained how the GPH is engaging in double-speak and deliberately failing to carry its end in implementing previously forged agreements on the release of consultants. Even then, however, he is careful with his words.
“It is expected that both panels prove sincerity by carrying out the agreements. Releasing the NDFP’s consultants is a good-will building measure, it is true; but at the same time, it’s also a promise previously made by the GPH when we began negotiations earlier this year in February. As for the Jasig, neither the GPH panel or the GPH itself can simply declare it’s inoperable — it will only lose effect if and when the head of the NDFP and the GPH agree to declare it so by one party sending a letter to the other,” he said.
In any case, human rights groups assert that even now the Aquino government continues to refuses to address the issues of torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Jasig-protected individuals, among them Leo Velasco, Prudencio Calubid, Rogelio Calubad, Sotero Llamas ; as well as hundreds of others without Jasig protection.
Jalandoni clarifies that despite all the negative setbacks, however, the NDFP leadership is determined that the peace talks proceed.
“NDFP chairman Mariano Orosa remains committed to the talks, and so are we,” he said. “It has to be said, however, that the life of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations depends on compliance with the Jasig. If the GPH cannot comply with the Jasig, then there is no way that we can trust the GPH to comply with any other agreement.”
Confidential Letter to Aquino
Further proof of the NDFP’s sincerity to talk peace with the GPH is how the NDFP peace panel sent a letter to GPH President Benigno Aquino in January 2011. Jalandoni explained that in the letter, the NDFP offered a “special track” to the peace talks.
“This letter to Aquino was of a confidential nature, but the NDFP has decided to now inform the public that such an offer was made to encourage the talks with the GPH. The NDFP laid down its concerns affecting the Philippine’s economic and political situation as well as issues involving human rights. In it, the NDFP also stated its readiness to engage in talks and forge an agreement on socio-economic reforms that will also serve to support and the strengthen the previously signed Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL). It was good that the GPH received this letter positively, and the talks began in February,” he said.
These days, however, the positive atmosphere that first enveloped the talks the Aquino administration as represented by its peace panel in the talks have somewhat turned gray. Various spokespersons form Malacanang such as presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have taken to issuing statements which are, to say the least, detrimental to the talks.
Again, Jalandoni is firm yet diplomatic in his reaction to this.
“There are those who would much rather have the talks collapse and the expense of the Filipino people’s hopes for peace; but there are many more people who do want the talks to proceed. Who is Lacierda, who is Gen. Eduardo del Rosario? Who are they among the thousands and thousands of Filipinos who desire for an end to the armed conflict and the beginning of soceity where is peace based on justice?,” he said.
According to Jalandoni, the NDFP would welcome members of the congress and the senate, as well officials from local government units if they went to be represented in the peace negotiations.
“The talks between the NDFP and the GPH affects the entire nation, and we do want all Filipinos to be concerned with it. What is necessary is for those involved is to cultivate, maintain and show resoluteness to come up with solutions and to remove obstacles. I am certain that most if not all ordinary Filipinos would speak out in support of the peace talks if asked,” he said.
The peace negotiator’s statements are not off the mark as in the last eight months, various people’s organizations representing the poor and marginalized sectors of society have been declaring their support for the talks. Pilgrims for Peace, for instance, and the Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) have led gatherings wherein workers and farmers groups were joined by urban poor, fisherfolk, women and children organizations stated how much they want the talks to prosper. All over the country, fora, symposia and other peace consultations have also been taking place.
As for the GPH president, however, critics say that he has been less than active in promoting the peace talks with the NDFP. The Aquino administration has focused more on negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF), but insiders have become a little disillusioned with how these talks are proceeding.
“It’s good that the GPH is also negotiating with the MILF, and the NDFP also desires a good outcome for their talks,” Jalandoni said. He clarified, however, that Aquinoshould take seriously recognize that the goal of peace talks is not to make the other party surrender arms and give up the struggle for liberation, but to come up with agreements that would lessen the devastating impact of the armed conflict on civilians.
“The NDFP’s commitment to the talks is founded on its determination to push for substantial reforms that will immediately and directly benefit the Filipino people — for instance, the NDFP wants an end to the human rights violations being committed by the AFP. The NDFP also stands for the aspirations of the poor sectors and their demands for genuine agrarian reform; for an end to destructive and irresponsible mining practices; for the furtherance of reforms that will provide free health, housing and educational services to the poor. This is why we engage in the talks; this is why we are willing to face the GPH and forge principled agreements with it,” he said.
The Joint Monitoring Committee
Peace panelist Ledesma for her part appealed to the public to support the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the NDFP and the GPH which has its office in Cubao.
“A lot of people don’t know that there’s a JMC, and that it’s a product of the CARHRIHL. This is a functioning office that receives complaints about the abuses of either the forces of the GPH or the NDFP. It’s existence alone proves the equality between the NDFP and the GPH as political forces, and it is to the benefit of the Filipino people that the JMC continues to operate,” she said.
Ledesma, however, explains that the JMC’s two secretariats — one of the NDFP, the other of the GPH– have not been able to formally meet since 2004 when the GPH under ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scuttled negotiations with the NDFP.
“The JMC will only be able to fully convene whenever there are peace talks — this is not a rule, but this is so far what has happened. It would be the best thing for the Filipino people and the country’s thousands of human rights victims if the JMC is able to fully perform its function to investigate and make recommendations on the complaints on HRVs the JMC receives. This is one other reason among so many others as to why the peace talks should continue,” she said.
GPH’s History of violating the Jasig and the Carhrihl
Latest reports in the meanwhile have it that the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) has made an appeal to both the NDFP and the GPH to temper their respective statements to the media and find means to settle the issues of the Jasig and the release of the NDFP consultants.
NDFP negotiating panel Agcaoili has already declared the NDFP’s readiness to proceed with the talks, provided that the GPH respect and uphold the Jasig and its committments in the Oslo agreement.
Agcaoili in a statement said that in the next round of talks, they will present to the GPH the history and continuity of violations against the Jasig and the Carhihl by the GRP/GPH from the regime of Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) to the current administration.
Agcaoili said that the NDFP expects that these violations would be acknowledged, discussed and rectified so that the peace negotiations can lead to the formal meetings of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs SER).
“The non-compliance with and brazen violations of JASIG by GRP/GPH since the GMA regime have been carried over, continued and further extended by the Aquino regime,” he said. According to Agcaoili, the GPH is guilty of the so-called suspension of the Jasig and the conversion of the list of JASIG-protected individuals into a manhunt list in 2004.
He also said that in 2007, the GRP/GPH colluded with the Dutch government in arresting Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the Chief Political Consultant of the NDFP, and raiding seven residences.This, Agcaoili said, resulted in the “fouling up” of the decryption code and non-return of the most important diskette for the decrypting of the photographs in the deposit box.
Agcaoili’s last assertion is bolstered by recent WikiLeaks reports exposing the how the GRP/GPH coordinated with the Dutch government to have Sison arrested. This was narrated in a September 4, 2007 memo sent by former US ambassador Kenny to the State Department wherein the US official reported a visit made by then foreign affairs secretary Alberto Romulo to her residence for a private breakfast.
The peace panelist also said that apart from the Jasig, the GPH should also be held accountable for violations of the Carhrihl: as of now, about 350 alleged political offenders remain in jail on on trumped up charges of common crimes. The 9,500 victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime also remain uncompensated.
(Written for Bulatlat.com)