The civil war in the Philippines and the status of peace talks between the GPH and NDFP

Chairperson, NDFP Negotiating Panel

Dear Friends in the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance,

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak in this people’s forum to launch the campaign “Justice for Lacub” as a response to the grave war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Aquino government in Lacub, Abra last month.

The topic you have assigned to me is “The civil war in the Philippines and the status of peace talks”.

In the current civil war in the Philippines, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) represents in the peace negotiations, the people’s democratic government which is a co-belligerent of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH).

Two states exist in the Philippines: one is the revolutionary, representing the people’s democratic power, and the other is counterrevolutionary, representing the foreign and domestic oppressors and exploiters.

The people’s democratic government has effective power over an extensive population and territory with organs of political power in 71 out of 81 provinces in the country. It is led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It has the New People’s Army (NPA) as the main component of state power. The NDFP encompasses a wide array of political forces with 18 allied revolutionary organizations and mass organizations of workers, peasants, women, youth, children and cultural activists.

On the other hand, the reactionary government, currently headed by the Aquino clique, is subservient to US imperialism and utilizes the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the CAFGU and private armies to suppress the people. They carry out the Oplan Bayanihan, patterned after the US Counter-Insurgency Guide. They perpetrate atrocious and numerous violations of human rights (HR) and international humanitarian law (IHL).

In carrying out their national liberation struggle through a protracted people’s war, the revolutionary forces are guided by the Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution, the Guide for Establishing the People’s Democratic Government, and the Rules of the New People’s Army.

In 1991, the NDFP declared its adherence to international humanitarian law, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II. Furthermore, in July 1996 it issued the NDFP Declaration of Adherence to the Geneva Conventions and Protocol I and deposited it with the Swiss Federal Council, the official depositary of IHL and also provided a copy to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the official guardian of IHL.

AFP Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Operations in Lacub last month

Taking the data provided by the Fact Finding Mission to Lacub and other reports, it is clear that the 41st Infantry Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Rogelio Noora and 2LT Joe Mari Landicho and Capt. Deo Martinez as officers on the ground, committed atrocious war crimes and crimes against humanity and other grave violations of IHL

Grave violations of IHL and constituting war crimes are the brutal killing, torture, mutilation and desecration of Ka Rekka Monte, NPA member, and similar killing and desecration of 6 of her NPA comrades, and the extrajudicial killing of civilians Engineer Fidela Salvador and Noel Viste. The six NPA comrades of Ka Rekka, honored as people’s martyrs like her, are Arnold Jaramillo, Pedring Banggao, Robert Beyao, Brandon Magranga, Robert Perez, and Ricardo Reyes.

The fact that Ka Recca suffered no bullet wound, as the autopsy of the NBI showed, indicates that she was captured alive. She should have been respected as an “hors de combat”. Instead she was subjected to willful killing, torture and inhuman treatment which are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and declared war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

2Lt. Landicho, Capt. Martinez, and Lt. Col. Noora should be held accountable for these war crimes. The responsibility of the Commanding Officer of the 5th Infantry Division under which the 41st IB operates, should also be investigated.

The AFP use of civilians as human shields in coercing 24 civilians to be human shields on September 5, 2014 is likewise a war crime. Using human shields is prohibited under customary international law and declared a war crime by the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) either as inhuman and cruel treatment or as an outrage upon personal dignity. It is likewise declared a war crime by the ICC.

Indiscriminate firing directed towards the houses of civilians in Talampac Proper and Pacoc, Talampac by the soldiers of the 41st IB stationed at So. Bantugo, Poblacion, Lacub on September 5, between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m is also a war crime. IHL strictly forbids attacks against the civilian population and civilians.

CARHRIHL Provisions Strictly Prohibiting IHL Violations

These war crimes are also strictly prohibited by provisions in the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed in 1998 and approved by the Principals of both Parties, NDFP Chairperson Mariano Orosa and then GRP President Joseph Estrada.

CARHRIHL, Part IV Respect for IHL, Art. 3 prohibits “at any time and in any place: violence to life and person, particularly killing or causing injury, physical or mental torture, mutilation, cruel or degrading treatment, desecration of the remains of those who have died in the course of armed conflict …” Art. 4 states: “Civilian population and civilians shall not be the object of attack, they shall be protected from indiscriminate aerial bombardment, strafing, artillery and mortar fire…”

It is worth noting that the CARHRIHL authorizes the investigation and trial by the NDFP and the GRP of those accused of violations of HR and IHL. Cf. CARHRIHL, Part III Respect for Human Rights, Art. 4 and Part IV Respect for International Humanitarian Law, Art. 6. These also state: “The victims or their survivors shall be indemnified.”

This means that the revolutionary justice system of the people’s democratic government can institute investigation, prosecution and trial of those accused of IHL violations. Therefore, the victims and their families may approach the people’s democratic government through its public prosecutors to file relevant complaints.

The CARHRIHL also provides for the filing of such complaints with the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) which is mandated by the CARHRIHL to monitor the implementation of CARHRIHL. Such filing may be done through the Joint Secretariat (JS) of the JMC which holds office in Cubao, Quezon City. The JS is composed of the NDFP Nominated Section of the JS and the GPH Section.

Moreover, such complaints may also be raised in the forthcoming International People’s Tribunal against the US-Aquino regime to be held in Washington, USA next year.

The Current Status of the Peace Talks

A series of consultations between the NDFP Negotiating Panel and a high level delegation of the GPH has resulted in a meeting between the two sides scheduled in Utrecht within the next few days. The two sides are discussing the possible resumption of peace negotiations after the collapse of talks on truce and cooperation last February 2013.

There is a new Special Envoy appointed by the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG), the official Third Party Facilitator. She is Elisabeth Slattum who has experience in peace talks in Columbia, Nepal and Haiti. She and Mr. Espen Lindbaeck, the Deputy Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Section of the RNG Foreign Ministry came for talks with the NDFP Negotiating Panel in Utrecht on October 18. This new team of the RNG expressed its willingness to help in the resumption of formal talks and to hold the next meeting of the negotiating panels in Oslo, Norway. We reiterated our readiness to resume formal talks on the basis of past bilateral peace agreements in order to address the roots of the armed conflict.

As a goodwill measure to promote peace talks, the revolutionary forces in Mindanao released four Prisoners of War (POWs) on July 29, 2014. They are again offering to release two more POWs, but the AFP is not willing to issue the suspension of offensive military and police operations (SOMO & SOPO) that is needed for the safe and orderly release of the POWs. Peace advocate organizations helped in the release of the POWs last July and they are again trying to facilitate the release of the two POWs. An NPA ceasefire always goes with the SOMO and SOPO.

In contrast to these goodwill gestures of the NPA, CPP and NDFP and the call of peace advocates to resume peace talks, the AFP and PNP commit gross violations of HR and IHL, as seen in the AFP operations in Lacub in September, and in so many other areas in the country.

The NDFP deeply appreciates the call of the family of Ka Recca and other peace advocates for the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the Aquino regime. Together let us affirm again our commitment to fight for justice, sovereignty, genuine democracy and a just and lasting peace.