The National Democratic Front accuses the Arroyo government of showing bad faith by not complying with an agreement that provides immunity guarantees to members of the NDF’s panel.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) appears bent on scuttling the resumption of formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), according to NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni. This, he said, is because the GRP has been violating the agreement reached in Oslo, Norway, last June 15, which covers among other things the reaffirmation of previously signed agreements as well as the release of detained NDFP consultants and other political prisoners.
The GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, which have been going on and off since 1986, were last stalled in 2002 when the US and the European Union included the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison in their “terrorist” lists. Since then the armed conflict has escalated, especially after the Arroyo government ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to crush the insurgency by 2010. Its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 (Operation Freedom Watch), which was implemented full-scale in 2002, resulted in more than a thousand extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances victimizing political activists in a seeming war of annihilation targeting unarmed civilians suspected by the military of having sympathies for the CPP-NPA.
Last June 15, the GRP and the NDFP agreed to resume formal negotiations in informal talks held in The Hague. It is hoped that the formal negotiations would seriously address the issue of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance, as both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) way back in 1998.
In the June 15 informal talks, the GRP and the NDFP agreed on reaffirming all previously signed agreements before Aug. 28, the proposed date for the resumption of formal talks. These agreements are the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on the Formation, Sequence and Operationalization of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWC Agreement), the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), and the CARHRIHL.
The GRP also declared its supposed intention to “lift the suspension” of the Jasig and to release detained NDFP consultants as well as political prisoners who were scheduled for release way back in 2001 and 2004.
Among the detained NDFP consultants, only Randall Echanis has been released in accordance with the June 15 agreement. His release, however, is limited to six months.
Echanis was arrested in January last year on murder charges stemming from allegations that he masterminded a purge within the ranks of the CPP in Inopacan, Leyte, in 1984 — while he was in detention. At the time of his arrest, he was attending a conference on agrarian reform initiated by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma or Union of Workers in Agriculture).
He was detained at the provincial jail in Palo, Leyte. In late July 2008, he was transferred to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, but a few days later was again transferred, this time to the Manila City Jail. He was released last Aug. 14.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Avelino Razon Jr. has claimed that another NDFP consultant, Elizabeth Principe, was released in late July in accordance with the June 15 agreement. “Principe was already released so she can participate as an (NDFP) consultant,” Razon said in a media interview earlier this week.
Principe was arrested in 2006 in connection with a supposed conspiracy between the CPP-NPA and rebel soldiers to destabilize the Arroyo administration. Before that she had been slapped with criminal charges, which she claimed were trumped-up and which a court later dismissed.
Razon also said two other NDFP consultants, Vicente Ladlad and Rafael Baylosis – who are both at large and facing charges in connection with the alleged 2006 destabilization plot – will not be arrested while the formal talks are ongoing, but the cases against them will not be dropped.
The Jasig, signed on Feb. 25, 1995, provides among other things that:
“As used and understood in this Joint Agreement, immunity guarantees shall mean that all duly accredited persons are guaranteed immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.”
“Because of the GRP violation of the aforesaid agreement, it is now doubtful whether the meetings scheduled for Aug. 28-Sept. 5 in Oslo would be held,” Jalandoni said in a statement.
“There are strong indications that the GRP intends to scuttle the resumption of formal talks. The GRP has shown bad faith and has cramped the material time for the arrangement of travel documents of the NDFP consultants.”
“So far, the GRP officials have been issuing press releases conjuring the illusion that it is doing its part to pave the way for the resumption of formal talks,” Jalandoni said. “So long as the GRP does not comply expeditiously with Jasig in accordance with the June 15 agreement, the GRP is in fact scuttling the Oslo meeting this month and probably the entire peace negotiations.” (Bulatlat.com)