The issuance of questionable safe-conduct passes is just one of the many complicated ways in which the Philippine government has been handling what were supposed to be preparations for the resumption of its formal talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. It underscores what the NDFP deems to be an utter lack of sincerity of the Arroyo regime to pursue the peace process.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — The issuance of safe-conduct passes to National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultants Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad would have normally been a welcome development, as these allow them to participate in the peace negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).
The NDFP’s negotiating panel, however, is not happy about it. It has in fact branded these safe-conduct passes, which were issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP), as “nooses on the neck” of those who hold them.
The issuance of such safe-conduct passes is just one of the many complicated ways in which the GRP has been handling what were supposed to be preparations for the resumption of its formal talks with the NDFP. More importantly, as far as the NDFP is concerned, it underscores what they deem to be an utter lack of sincerity of the Arroyo regime to pursue the peace process.
(Click here to view or download a PDF file of the Jasig safe-conduct passes.)
Baylosis and Ladlad were slapped with rebellion charges in connection with an alleged 2006 conspiracy between the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and rebel soldiers to destabilize the Arroyo government. They have since been at large and, notwithstanding the issuance of the safe-conduct passes, the warrants issued in 2006 for their arrests still stand.
In the safe-conduct passes issued to them, Baylosis and Ladlad are identified as members of the “CPP/NPA/NDF.” The identification, according to Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center (PPC), is a “virtual death warrant.” The center is a nongovernment institution that provides technical and staff services to the peace negotiations and facilitates communication between the two parties. Casambre also pointed out that this is the first time the government has issued such a pass.
While Baylosis and Ladlad’s safe-conduct passes purportedly guarantee that they would not be subject to surveillance, arrest, harassment, search, and detention, as well as hold-departure orders, while the peace negotiations are ongoing, these also state that “such immunity does not extend to any willful violation of the law committed after the issuance and /or during the validity” of the passes. The passes, signed by PNP Director-General Jesus Versoza, likewise instruct all police units throughout the country to be “guided” by the conditions these stipulate.
Can Be Arrested Anytime
“Copies of those safe-conduct passes are to be distributed to all police stations, and their names and pictures are there,” Casambre said. “At the same time the warrants against them have not been recalled. So they can still be arrested anytime.”
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 more than a hundred 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.
Sometime between March and May this year, according to Casambre, the GRP sent feelers to the NDFP stating its supposed intention to drop the precondition “that had long been an impediment to the resumption of the talks” – the demand for an indefinite or prolonged ceasefire. “The NDFP responded positively, but also demanded that the GRP’s unilateral suspension of the Jasig (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) – which runs counter to the provisions of the agreement – be lifted,” Casambre said.