By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
With the Philippine government’s failure to comply with an agreement that provides immunity guarantees to negotiators of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the resumption of formal talks set later this month are in peril, according to NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison. Sison also said that because of the government’s non-removal of “impediments” on 14 detained NDFP consultants, in accordance with the June 15 agreement between both parties, it is likely that the formal talks cannot be held this month and even in the remaining months of the Arroyo regime.
This, he said, would most likely happen unless the negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and NDFP hold a preliminary meeting to remove the impediments on the NDFP consultants before the scheduled resumption of formal talks.
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 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 I and II (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 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 before the end of July detained NDFP consultants as well as political prisoners who were scheduled for release way back in 2001 and 2004.
“The GRP is condemnable for refusing to release any detained NDFP consultant in accordance with JASIG and for maliciously limiting the liberty of Randall Echanis to six months and making him a hostaged consultant,” Sison said in a statement sent to the media on Aug. 22. “It is also condemnable for issuing sham safe conduct passes that in fact incriminate and condemn Vicente Ladlad and Rafael Baylosis and that practically serve as their death warrant.”
“The concerned NDFP consultants and their lawyers have taken a position that they would rather debunk the false charges in court and thereby seek relief than submit themselves to the vicious impositions and incriminations by the militarists like Gens. Eduardo Ermita and Avelino Razon who constantly maneuver to undermine and negate the Jasig and the entire GRP-NDFP peace negotiations,” Sison added.
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.
Baylosis and Ladlad, meanwhile, were slapped with rebellion charges in connection with an alleged 2006 conspiracy between the CPP and rebel soldiers to destabilize the Arroyo government. They have since been at large.
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.”
Sison pointed to what he described as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “lack of political will” in seriously pursuing peace negotiations with the NDFP. “She tries to evade responsibility by letting one set of subordinates to posture as being for peace negotiations and another set to brazenly generate impediments,” Sison said.
The NDFP, Sison said, “intends to propose to the GRP through the Norwegian government that a preparatory meeting between the GRP and NDFP sides with their respective lawyers be held within the first week of September in order to produce a written agreement that reaffirms the JASIG and stipulates the methods for complying with the JASIG and removing the GRP-made impediments on the NDFP consultants.” Bulatlat.com