It would seem to many Filipinos that the peace negotiations between the government and the Communists have achieved nothing significant. Truth is, both panels have signed several important documents that should move the process forward. Would the Aquino administration genuinely commit to these earlier agreements?
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been engaged in peace negotiations for almost 25 years now. It has been a long process that, to many Filipinos, has seemingly achieved so little. After all, the Communist revolution is still raging in the countryside and the government has been trying all sorts of methods to suppress or defeat it.
In fact, much has been achieved in the peace process. The agreements and documents that both panels have signed in the past quarter of a century have been significant.
The GPH, then officially named Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), began peace talks with the NDFP soon after Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino took office after the first People Power uprising in 1986. As an act of goodwill, Aquino released hundreds of political prisoners, thus paving the way for the negotiations. The talks collapsed, however, after police fired upon protesting farmers on Jan. 22, 1987, in what is now known as the Mendiola Massacre.
Talks resumed in 1992, under the new administration of former general Fidel Ramos, when The Hague Joint Declaration was signed on Sept. 1 that same year. The agreement laid down the framework of the peace talks and the substantive agenda to be taken up.
Both parties agreed that formal peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP shall be held to resolve the armed conflict and that the common goal of the negotiations shall be the attainment of a just and lasting peace.
“The holding of peace negotiations must be in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice and no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations,” the declaration states.
According to The Hague Joint Declaration, the substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces. These agenda should be tackled in that particular order.
Years after the Hague agreement was signed, the NDFP would invoke its provisions again and again, especially since the GPH, according to the front, repeatedly violated the spirit and the letter of the agreement. The NDFP is the umbrella organization of revolutionary groups in the Philippines, among them the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Next to be signed, on June 14, 1994 was the Breukelen Joint Statement. Here, confidence-building and goodwill measures are stated as voluntary undertakings of both parties. The NDFP asserts that political prisoners should not be treated and convicted as common criminals.
In the Breukelen Joint Statement, too, the NDFP endorsed the indemnification of victims of human-rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship and proposed the allocation to the victims of at least 30 percent of whatever money recovered from Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth.
To facilitate the peace negotiations, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) was signed by both parties on Feb. 24, 1995.
Under the Jasig, both parties have the inherent right to issue documents of identification to its negotiators, consultants, staffers, security and other personnel. Such documents, it says, shall be duly recognized as safe-conduct passes.
All persons with documents of identification or safe-conduct passes are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations, the Jasig states further.
Jasig also provides that upon presentation by the duly accredited person to any entity, authority or agent of the party concerned, the document of identification or safe-conduct pass shall be honored and respected and the duly accredited person shall be accorded due recognition and courtesy and allowed free and unhindered passage.
Immunity guarantees shall mean that all duly accredited persons of both parties 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.
But since Jasig was signed, the NDFP has been decrying the GPH’s violations. Under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, for instance, more than a dozen consultants and members of the NDFP peace panel and reciprocal working committees were arrested or abducted and charged with common crimes.
Recently, Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara, a top leader of the New People’s Army in the Southern Tagalog Region, was arrested by state agents. The NDFP has demanded his release, arguing that Alcantara is a holder of document of identification and, thus, covered by Jasig. The government countered by denying that Alcantara is covered by the Jasig and that the NDFP allegedly has the habit of putting in its list of negotiators or consultants arrested NPA leaders.
The NDFP fired back by saying the use of assumed names in documents of identification was agreed upon by both parties in June 1996, in a document titled Additional Implementing Rules Pertaining to the Documents of Identification. Presumably, Alcantara is covered by the Jasig under an assumed name or alias.
What followed afterward are ground rules, procedural and supplemental agreements to Jasig and reciprocal working committees for each substantive agenda item, all signed by both parties between 1995 and 1998.
The first substantive agreement, which many considered a major breakthrough, was the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed by both parties on March 16, 1998.