Nothing much is being said about the agenda and the developments in the talks. This is most unfortunate because what is being negotiated are important matters that could affect not only the peace talks but the future of the Filipino people. And the Filipino people’s inputs and involvement in the talks are not only desirable but essential.
By BENJIE OLIVEROS
It is a welcome development that peace talks have resumed between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as well as with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). What is unfortunate is that nothing much is being made known to the public through the media except for the announcement of the opening of the talks. Other than that is the news that the NDFP is willing to enter into a one-week ceasefire if reciprocated by the GPH, the protest of the NDFP over the arrest of its consultant Alan Jasminez, and the formal split of Umbra Kato from the MILF. While these news are important, nothing much is being said about the agenda and the developments in the talks.
This is most unfortunate because what is being negotiated are important matters that could affect not only the peace talks but the future of the Filipino people. The key issues in the GPH-MILF talks are the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination, land and their ancestral domain. If these issues are not substantially addressed, the country would see no end to the Mindanao conflict. When the government signed an agreement, which did not substantially address these issues, with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MILF continued the war. This is now the significance of the Kato split.
Thus, it is important for the Filipino people to be kept abreast about the developments in the talks. The government should have learned a lesson from the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. It could not have been too controversial if the Filipino people were kept informed about the developments in the negotiations and the preliminary agreements were explained to the public.
The GPH-NDFP peace talks, on the other hand, would be tackling the most difficult but most important agenda in the peace negotiations: social and economic reforms. Discussions on the first agenda – human rights and international humanitarian law – produced the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. It signified the intent of both parties to respect the rights of the Filipino people and to humanize the war. It paved the way for the second agenda. The fact that the Arroyo administration did not honor the agreement as shown by its acts of violating human rights and humanitarian law with impunity – with the spike in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances – showed that it was not serious in working for a just and lasting peace.
The importance, nay national significance and urgency of the second agenda in the GPH-NDFP peace talks – social and economic reforms – is being punctuated by the debilitating crisis and worsening poverty confronting the country. Notwithstanding the optimistic pronouncements and glowing growth figures being presented, the country is nowhere near solving the crisis, especially since the Aquino government is merely continuing with the economic thrusts of privatization, now being dubbed as “public-private partnership,” deregulation, and liberalization of its predecessor the Arroyo administration, which, in turn, is being prescribed by the US and the IMF-WB.
Unemployment, hunger, and poverty are worsening. The poverty situation is so bad that the Aquino government resorted to conditional cash transfers (read: cash handouts) and to reducing the poverty threshold standard from a low P41($0.94) per person to P 37 ($0.85) – by basing its estimates on a “least cost” food bundle – effectively reducing the number of poor Filipinos, in paper, by 4.6 million.
The agenda on social and economic reforms would necessarily touch on the issues of sovereignty and the economy and how to tackle the crisis and the poverty situation. Will the country continue following the prescriptions of the the IMF-WB and still be an adjunct of the US or will it assert the country’s sovereignty and work toward industrialization and self-reliance? Will the country continue being dependent on foreign trade, investments and capital or will it harness its resources for domestic capital formation and growth? Will the government preserve land monopoly and cash crop production or will it implement genuine land reform and work toward food security? Will the country continue to allow foreign corporations to extract, export, and profit from our natural resources, thereby causing the destruction of the environment, or will the government limit its utilization for domestic use? Will the government continue with the labor export policy or work toward generating gainful employment in the country?
The GPH-NDFP peace talks would also involve the question of social justice, and equal rights for women and indigenous peoples. It would touch on the implementation of a comprehensive social program versus the current thrust of privatizing social services, and free education up to the tertiary level versus the slashing and eventual phase out of government subsidies to state colleges and universities. The talks would discuss the government’s responsiblity in providing basic utilities such as power and water, and essential services such as public transportation versus the current thrust of privatizing these services.
These are just some of the important and urgent issues to be discussed in the ongoing peace talks. And the Filipino people’s inputs and involvement in the talks are not only desirable but essential.
The Aquino government should also restrain the Armed Forces of the Philippines from committing acts inimical to the talks such as the arrest of NDFP consultant Alan Jasminez. That is, if the Aquino government is serious in addressing the roots of the conflict and not merely engaging in a propaganda war in an effort to defeat those it considers as enemies of the state or to try to trick them to capitulate.