Prospects and developments of the peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP

Chairperson, NDFP Negotiating Panel

Magandang hapon, mga kababayan, kaibigan, mga kasama sa pakikibaka para sa hustisya at kapayapaan,

First, I would like to warmly greet the organizers of this forum, the League of Filipino Students that is celebrating its anniversary, the Cordillera Ecumenical Movement for Action and Transformation, the Alliance of Concerned Students, Anakbayan – UP Baguio, the University Student Council and UPB Outcrop. My greetings also to the panel of reactors from the academe, the studentry and the church, and the other participants in this forum.

I wish to start with the latest developments in the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Later I will take up the prospects of the peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP.

Last June 15 in a meeting at the Norwegian Embassy in The Hague, representatives of the NDFP (Joma Sison our Chief Political Consultant, Fidel Agcaoili, Vice-Chair of our Panel and Head of the NDFP Human Rights Committee, and I) and the GRP (GRP Panel Chair Nieves Confesor and GRP Panel member Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria met to discuss the possibility of resuming formal peace talks. Present at the meeting were representatives of the Norwegian Government, the Third Party Facilitator in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. The Norwegian group was led by Ambassador Vegar Brynildsen.

At the end of the six-hour meeting, the representatives of the GRP and the NDFP agreed that the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) would be respected and complied with and NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons would be expeditiously released in accordance with the JASIG. Furthermore, political prisoners ordered released since 2001 and 2004 should be released. We gave the GRP side the list of 39 political prisoners ordered released by Mrs. Glora Arroyo and 32 political prisoners whose release within one month was agreed upon by the GRP in the Oslo Joint Statement II of April 3, 2004. Furthermore, trumped up charges against NDFP panelists, consultants and staffers must be withdrawn, including the P 10 million and P5 million bounties against Prof. Jose Ma. Sison and Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal, respectively, be likewise withdrawn.

We gave a copy of the concise one paragraph agreement signed by both negotiating panels on February 8, 1997 for the release within 10 days of NDFP Consultant Danilo Borjal, as a model for the expeditious release of NDFP consultants. The GRP side was assisted by then Assistant Chief State Councel, now Supreme Court Justice Teresita de Castro, while the NDFP side was assisted by Prof. Jose Maria Sison, Atty. Romeo T. Capulong of the Public Interest Law Center and Antonio Zumel, NDFP Senior Adviser. Besides Ambassador Howard Dee as Chair, other signatories for the GRP were all lawyers: Atty. Silvestre H. Bello, former Secretary of Justice and Solicitor General now Cabinet Secretary, Congressman Jose V. Yap and Atty. Rene Sarmiento.

This concise agreement which paved the way for the continuation of the peace talks and the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) reads as follows: “Both Negotiating Panels discussed and agreed on the mode of release of NDFP Consultant Danilo Borjal on or before February 18, 1997, addressing the respective positions of the two Panels regarding the issue of the applicability of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) to him. Done in The Netherlands on 8 February 1997.”

The compliance with the JASIG by the GRP would pave the way for a preparatory meeting and formal talks in Oslo sometime in August. Both sides agreed that they would make simultaneous announcements of such positive prospect on July 6. The resumption of formal talks would be followed by a three-day meeting of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on Social and Economic Reforms. The Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) would also be reconvened.

All appeared fine and rosy. The simultaneous announcements were delayed by two days, but they did come out. The GRP side declared they were “lifting their suspension of the JASIG” effective July 17. Note that the NDFP never accepted the GRP suspension of the JASIG in 2005, since the JASIG does not provide for suspension. It only provides for termination by written notice. So, the NDFP holds that the GRP suspension of the JASIG is invalid and illegal. The NDFP has denounced the GRP for violating the JASIG with the killing of NDFP Consultant Sotero Llamas (May 2006), the enforced disappearances of NDFP Consultants Leo Velasco (2007), Prudencio Calubid, Rogelio Calubad, Leopoldo Ancheta, and Philip Limjoco (all 2006), among others. Also a gross violation of JASIG is the detention of NDFP consultants and other JASIG-protected persons.

When NDFP Consultant Elizabeth Principe was released in the third week of July, the GRP side claimed it was through their efforts. In reallity, Principe was released on the basis of court orders after she and her lawyers won legal victories. The AFP and the PNP sabotaged and delayed her release for two weeks. She got her release only after she and her fellow political prisoners started a hunger strike.

NDFP RWC-SER Member Randall Echanis was released, but not in accordance with JASIG. Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera interposed in her Manifestation before the Supreme Court the condition of only six months or less. This was done in a devious way. The lawyers of both sides had agreed that the release would not have that condition. This condition is a negation of JASIG. It makes Randall Echanis a GRP-hostaged consultant.

With regards to NDFP Political Consultant Vicente Ladlad and NDFP RWC-SER Member Rafael Baylosis, the lawyers of both sides agreed that the warrants of arrest, based on clearly trumped-up charges, would be recalled and then the court would issue an order to recall. Instead of this, however, the Philippine National Police issued sham safe conduct passes to them, which are judgments of conviction and death warrants, branding them guilty of criminal offenses. Ladlad and Baylosis, and their lawyers, have denounced these sham safe conduct passes and are poised to file civil, criminal and administrative charges against PNP General Jesus Verzosa, General Avelino Razon and other officials responsible for issuing the sham safe conduct passes.

The releases and withdrawal of charges were supposed to be carried out in July so that the NDFP consultants could get their passports and visas to join the peace talks in Oslo on August 18-26. But by August 11, there was no such compliance of the GRP, so I issued a statement declaring:

“Until now the GRP has failed to release any of the detained NDFP consultants and to quash charges against those with warrants of arrest.” The GRP was not releasing NDFP consultants in accordance with JASIG. It was in fact undermining JASIG and putting in new impediments instead of removing them. The GRP side claimed without any basis that “they were “bending backwards”, that they had caused the release of Principe and Echanis. They further claimed that all Ladlad and Baylosis had to do was to surface since they had declared the lifting of their suspension of JASIG.

When the NDFP reiterated the agreement on June 15 to release the other NDFP consultants and JASIG-protected persons, General Razon claimed that the NDFP was suddenly making new and impossible demands.

On 29 August, Prof. Sison declared: “Resumption of formal talks is still possible if GRP respects and complies with the JASIG. As soon as possible, the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels should meet in Oslo in order to put in writing the most expeditious methods of removing the impediments on NDFP consultants.” This meeting he said had been proposed through the Norwegian government. He lambasted the militarist clique of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and General Avelino Razon for undermining and negating the JASIG.

As late as August 31 and September 2, the NDFP Panel reiterated its proposal for the two panels to meet in Oslo as soon as possible to come up with an aforesaid written agreement. Thereafter the meeting could glide into discussing the date and agenda of formal talks later in October.

Instead of responding favorably to this NDFP proposal, the GRP continued its attacks against the NDFP. The GRP said they would not agree to withdrawing criminal charges against NDFP consultants for that would undermine the GRP justice system. Moreover, they insisted on the setting up by the NDFP of the working group on end of hostilities. As Ms. Gloria Arroyo and General Ermita had earlier stated, they wanted to frontload the DDR framework of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, in other words, surrender. Thus, they put as high priority the agenda on end of hostilities.

This is in gross violation of the non-capitulation principle enshrined in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. The NDFP is firmly holding on to the Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the RWCs, signed in 1995 and supplemented in 1997, that the roots of the armed conflict have first to be addressed by agreements on social, economic and political reforms before taking up the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. This sequence of the substantive agenda had already been established and agreed upon in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

Hence, in a statement on 4 September, Fidel Agcaoili, declared that GRP top officials “are preventing the resumption of the formal talks by continuing to violate the JASIG and refusing to comply with it and remove the impediments imposed on NDFP panelists, consultants and other persons protected by the JASIG.” He added that the insistence of the GRP to put as high priority the discussion of end of hostilities diverts attention from the negotiation on social and economic reforms.

The NDFP on the other hand has been meticulously preparing for serous negotiations on SER, especially because of the grave consequences of the economic and financial crisis on the Filipino people. The NDFP RWC-SER, chaired by NDFP Panel Member Julieta de Lima, has just published a book on the NDFP RWC SER Perspective on Social and Economic Reforms. The NDFP RWC-SER is calling for a consultation meeting on SER with the purpose, among others, of coming up with urgent measures to address the widespread hunger and the need for food security in the country.

Despite the negative statements and attacks from Razon and other GRP officials, the NDFP remains open up to now to holding a meeting of members of both negotiating panels with their respective lawyers to aim for a written agreement on how to comply with JASIG and expeditiously release the NDFP consultants. This could open up the way for the resumption of formal talks in October or November, after compliance by the GRP with the aforesaid written agreement.

The NDFP feels deeply the urgent need to negotiate and forge an agreement on social and economic reforms. Moreover, the NDFP wishes to respond favorable to the appeals of various peace advocates like the Pilgrims for Peace and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform in the Philippines and those in the international community.

Prospects for peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP

If we think of a time frame longer than the next few months, I would say that the prospects are fairly good. This is due to the increasing strength of the revolutionary movement and the worsening of the economic crisis.

The revolutionary movement is now active in more than 120 guerrilla fronts, covering more than 800 municipalities and about 10,000 barrios. It carries out social and economic reforms beneficial to millions of people through its genuine land reform program, health, education, culture and has mass organizations of workers, peasants, women, youth, children and cultural groups which are the foundation of the people's revolutionary committees or organs of political power.

This significant and growing strength of the revolutionary movement and the deepening economic crisis provide a strong basis for the reactionary government to go into peace negotiations with the NDFP. The clamor for social, economic and political reforms is bound to grow stronger. Prof. Jose Maria Sison in a recent interview points out that there is even the possibility that at some time in the future, some patriotic and progressive elements in the GRP may arise to move for a historical concord to unite to fight against foreign and feudal domination.

However, what are the prospects for a resumption of formal talks under the Arroyo regime? The actions and statements of Ermita and Razon are serous indications that the militarist clique in the Arroyo regime is holding sway and is bent on the militarist solution of either militarily defeating the armed revolutionary movement or seeking to make it fall into the trap of capitulation. Mrs. Arroyo herself appears to be more concerned with clinging to power by hook or by crook, fearing possible prosecution for her crimes against the people. She does not demonstrate any political will to go into serious negotiations to address the roots of the armed conflict.

Whatever the decision of the Arroyo regime, the revolutionary movement is determined to continue its struggle for national and social liberation, for national sovereignty, genuine independence and democracy, which will be the firm basis for a just and lasting peace. If the Arroyo regime refuses to negotiate for a just peace, then the NDFP will continue preparing for the probability or possibility of serious negotiations with the next administration. The twelve peace agreements already signed remain a good basis and a high standard for further peace negotiations.