Satur C. Ocampo | Getting to the Roots of the Armed Conflict

At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
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A high sense of optimism enlivened the hundred or so participants of the Mindanao Leaders Peace Conference convened early this week by Inpeace Mindanao in Cagayan de Oro City.

Their hopefulness was infectious, springing from the positive results of the preliminary talks held earlier this month in Oslo, Norway, between the negotiating panels of the Aquino government (now designated as GPH) and of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The panels have agreed to resume formal peace negotiations on social and economic reforms two weeks from now (Feb. 15-21), picking up from where the talks stopped in August 2004. They also agreed to reaffirm all 12 previously signed agreements, and to reconvene the Joint Monitoring Committee that shall implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, approved in 1998.

A limited nationwide ceasefire may also be mutually declared during the week-long formal talks.

Invited as a resource person to the conference, I enjoyed listening to the searching questions raised by the participants and their animated discussions over a broad range of issues that, they concluded, deepened their understanding of the GPH-NDFP peace process.

They vowed to support the peace talks by encouraging more people to join the consultations that both panels are expected to carry out in the course of the negotiations.

The conference consensus was that the formal peace talks could reasonably be expected to move forward, with less of the deadlocks and suspensions marking previous negotiations, if the two sides adhered to the mutually-declared premise to “address the roots of the armed conflict.”

This was the premise, first put forward by President Cory Aquino in 1986, to which the NDFP responded positively, although the 1986-87 peace talks failed. On this premise, the NDFP has developed and continues to push a comprehensive agenda for the peace talks. In 1992, the GPH, under President Fidel Ramos, responded and the consequent on-and-off talks resulted in 10 agreements.

President Noynoy Aquino has promised to “revive the peace process on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of the conflict, under clear policies that pave the way ahead… to attain a just and lasting peace.” However, he has yet to spell out what “clear policies” his administration would pursue.

To “address the roots of the armed conflict” means primarily to look into and arrive at a common understanding of the root causes of the Filipino people’s endemic poverty and the nation’s underdevelopment, then agree on the necessary measures to resolve them.

Such issues include the problems of landlessness among the peasantry, backward agriculture and absence of basic industries, neglect and exploitation of the peasants and workers, and various forms of injustices due to economic and social inequalities.

These will be discussed in the Feb. 15-21 formal talks and in further talks that may be set. Whatever social and economic agreements may be forged shall largely determine the political and constitutional reforms that will be taken up in the next substantive agenda.

Discussions on such reforms, through reciprocal working committees (RWCs), started in April 2001. As of April 1, 2004, the RWCs had largely agreed on a 12-point preamble to a proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. The discussions were stopped after Gloria Arroyo suspended the peace talks altogether.

A significant point of agreement in the preamble acknowledges the “widespread poverty and structural inequity on account of domestic industrial and agrarian underdevelopment rooted in the colonial history of the country and its unequal economic relations with the highly developed world economic powers…”

Poverty and inequity, it goes on, “…have impeded the social and economic development of the Philippines and engendered social unrest and armed conflict.”

But one word used in the preamble will be important. It’s in the part that says both sides agree to “…carry out agrarian reform and national industrialization” as essential components of a program to bring about comprehensive and sustainable social and economic development.

The GPH wants to delete “national” from the phrase “national industrialization.” The NDFP wants to maintain the term because it denotes Filipino-controlled, against foreign-dominated, industrialization. This distinction is crucial to reforming an economic policy, reliant on foreign loans and investments, that has failed to industrialize the Philippine economy since the 1960s.

Note that the NDFP position is consistent with Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution drawn up under the Cory Aquino government: “The State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.”

Under the Arroyo government, the GPH objected to a definitively Filipino-controlled industrialization policy because of its adherence to neoliberal globalization, which rejects nationalist and protectionist barriers to international capital.

Now under Aquino, can the government muster the political will to break away from the neoliberal line, thus paving the way for a concerted effort toward social and economic reforms? GPH panel chair Alexander Padilla has expressed optimism that an agreement to carry out these basic reforms can be completed in six months.

What is Padilla’s basis for such optimism? Does President Aquino share his optimism? We’ll soon find out. (

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