Hardtalk: ‘We are not for a ‘restart’ but for a resumption of peace negotiations’

Liberation International interview with Julieta de Lima, Chairperson, NDFP Negotiating Panel

Liberation International: The GRP has asserted that any possibility of opening the peace negotiations would be a ‘restart’ of the whole process, including the framework of the negotiations. Will the NDFP Peace Panel table this as a first item (the framework) in initial discussions when both panels meet face to face?

JL:  We are not for a ‘restart’ but for a resumption of peace negotiations. As first item when we meet with the GRP team in April will be the discussion on the framework of the peace negotiations.  The Hague Joint Declaration as the framework for peace negotiations has resulted in several substantive agreements, the most important of which are the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).  We cannot consign these to the waste basket. Both the GRP and the NDFP have put in a lot of painstaking and deliberate effort in the course of 36 years. Thus, we will insist on discussing the reaffirmation of all previous signed agreements.

LI: When the Duterte regime scuttled the talks in 2017, both panels have been engaged in discussions on the comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms, considered to be the “heart and soul” of the negotiations. Has this substantial matter ever been mentioned or discussed in framing the statement recognizing the “serious socioeconomic and environmental issues” facing the Philippines?

JL:  I made a brief presentation of the NDFP draft CASER at a meeting with the GRP team in March 2023.  We meant this to be among the serious socioeconomic and environmental issues facing our country.  But we did not have an in-depth discussion on this with the GRP team.

LI: This year will be the 26th year since the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed by the GRP and the NDFP. In light of recent and continuous reports of aerial bombings, killings and massacres against peasants, activists and hors de combat in the Philippine countryside, how can the broad international solidarity for the Philippine revolutionary movement hold the GRP accountable for its war crimes?

JL:  The current Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. regime can be held accountable for violations of the CARHRIHL, which the government co-signed with the NDFP.  But since these acts constitute war crimes, he can also be held to account under the Nuremberg principles. Like Duterte, Marcos Jr., can also be charged under the terms of the International Criminal Court. Other avenues including quasi-legal courts of public opinion can also form the basis of future legal actions to hold Marcos Jr. and Duterte for their war crimes.

LI: What would the NDFP consider as the most fundamental and substantial item that needs to be urgently addressed in its draft of the agreement on social and economic reforms?

JL:  The most fundamental items that need discussing are agrarian reform, rural development and national industrialization.  These form the foundation of the national economy and is the key to ending poverty and joblessness in the country and ensuring economic growth.

LI: GRP factotums have voiced nervous concerns about the CPP’s current rectification movement, even saying that intensifying the people’s war runs counter to the “spirit” of the peace negotiations, are there bases for them to have cold feet? Would there be implications for the peace talks, as they imply?

JL:  The CPP’s current rectification movement is sure to revitalize and lead to the resurgence of the revolution which in turn compels the GRP to address the root causes of armed conflict. Of course, the enemies of the people would be concerned about this.

LI: Should the formal peace talks be convened again soon, is the NDFP ready with its peace negotiating panel?

JL: The GRP has a long track record of undermining the NDFP Peace Negotiating Panel by targeting NDFP consultants and negotiators in clear violation of JASIG. Nevertheless, I expect that the Negotiating Panel would be completed as soon as the formal peace negotiations start.

LI: How do you foresee the conduct of the peace negotiations in anticipation that most GRP panel representatives would be coming mostly from the Armed Forces of the Philippines?

JL:  We just have to wait and see how they conduct themselves in the peace negotiations.  General Ramos, a military man, when he became president enabled the GRP Negotiating Panel to make progress in the peace negotiations.  As a matter of fact, the most substantive agreements were made during his term. Just as it was in Ramos’ time when many substantive agreements were made, it was also the military that scuttled the talks at the time of Cory, Gloria, Noynoy and Digong. Therefore, it is the seriousness and readiness to engage that the GRP and its principal approach to the peace talks that matters more than the composition of the panel.

LI: Should the previous agreements already made in the past rounds of peace talks be ‘negated’, would there still be basis for the NDFP to continue engaging in the negotiations?

JL: It is the responsibility of both parties to recognize the agreements made during the course of the peace negotiations since Cory Aquino’s time because these agreements were signed by legitimate representatives of both parties. Regardless of who is appointed to each negotiating panel at whichever point in time, the effectivity of such agreements must be recognized in order of the peace negotiations to proceed consistent with the framework provided for by the Hague Joint Declaration. Should the GRP disregard these agreements, then there would be no point for the NDFP to pursue the peace negotiations.