Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Thaw in the Winter Freeze

Streetwise | BusinessWorld

It was 11 below zero last Feb. 15 in Oslo, a thick blanket of snow had turned the panoramic view outside Holmen Fjordhotel into a monochrome of white and grey with scattered dots and slivers of black. Our Norwegian hosts described this winter as “extremely cold.” But the atmosphere was definitely warm and sunny inside the conference hall, Bryggesal 3, where formal peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH nee GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) finally resumed after more than six years of suspension.

The opening statements of OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, representing the GPH, and NDFP Negotiating Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni reflected the thaw after the longest running suspension of the formal talks under the Arroyo administration in the 20-year peace negotiations between the two Parties.

From Secretary Deles: “… [T]here is a growing, surging current that says No more to war and war games. From the remotest mountain and coastal village to our own urban poor and middle class communities, the clamor for peace cannot be denied. Our people are saying, the landscape of war must give way to the imperatives of peace.”

From NDFP Chief Negotiator Jalandoni: “[W]e stand at the threshold of a new beginning…. We are resolved to do everything we can to make these talks succeed and move us forward towards forging fundamental social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that will address the roots of the armed conflict and be of lasting benefit to the Filipino people.”

There is good reason to believe that the optimism of the two parties and their kind, conciliatory words to each other were not mere political rhetoric put on to add spice to the occasion.

Clear commitments had been made that ended the impasse in the talks and set into motion the operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee tasked to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL)); the substantive talks on social and economic reforms (SER), as well as the formation of working groups to jump-start the work on political and constitutional reforms (PCR) ahead of the formation of the Reciprocal Working Committees on PCR.

It will be recalled that in the preliminary talks last month that paved the way for this historic occasion, the two sides had already agreed not only to proceed with the substantive agenda defined by the Hague Joint Declaration, but on a general, if flexible, time frame of concluding the talks in three years or so with a comprehensive political settlement.

Secretary Deles noted: “Clearly, there is much that divides the two panels that come to this table…but there is also much that unites us — the vision of a just society, the desiderata of national sovereignty, the wish to reverse the drain in human and natural resources, the imperative of good governance and more. It is on this common ground…that we come to the negotiating table, seeking to negotiate our differences and to deepen our unities.”

NDFP Panel Chair Jalandoni cited the presence of NDFP RWC-SER members Rafael Baylosis and Randall Echanis as “concrete proof of the efficacy and respect for the JASIG” (Joint Agreement for Safety and Immunity Guarantees), that had been unilaterally and illegally suspended by the Arroyo regime in 2005.

He expressed the NDFP’s expectation that the GPH will continue to work for the lifting of the warrants of arrest and withdrawal or dismissal of charges against Baylosis, Echanis, and Vicente Ladlad as well as facilitate the “expeditious release of detained NDFP consultants and JASIG-protected persons in compliance with JASIG as well as in the spirit of goodwill or for humanitarian reasons.”

Even more remarkable, if not surprising to many in the audience, was the NDFP panel chair’s offer for an “alliance and truce” based on a “concise agreement for an immediate just peace.”

While this proposal may sound radically new to those who are not too familiar with the recent history of the negotiations, it is really a reiteration of a proposal made by the NDFP six years ago, in August 2005, which the GRP panel of the Arroyo regime totally ignored.

The reiteration comes in the light of the continuing acute global and domestic economic crisis containing proposals that the NDFP deems “doable” in the medium and long range. It is “a challenge to the Aquino regime to release itself from the dictates of US imperialism, especially the already bankrupt neoliberal economic policy and the futile US Counterinsurgency Guide… to strengthen national independence and carry out national industrialization.”

For her part, Secretary Deles said, “We have no illusions that signing a peace treaty will solve all our problems. Not at all, for peace without justice, peace without development is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. But a political settlement, a peace treaty, will be a beginning. Stilling the guns of war is essential for harnessing all our resources for nation building, especially at a time when the global economic crisis has hit hard countries like the Philippines.”

Notwithstanding all the reasons for optimism and hope that the peace talks are finally on the roll again, the two parties agree that the way forward is a formidable challenge, strewn with unexpected twists and turns and fraught with pitfalls and obstacles.

In this regard, both the GPH and NDFP panels expressed their gratitude to and acknowledged the invaluable support of the Royal Norwegian Government in facilitating the negotiations since 2001 and in particular its efforts to help surmount the obstacles to the resumption of formal talks.

Secretary Deles sounded the call for “building and strengthening our peace constituencies.”

We can only resonate to that call and expound on it by calling for our people’s unwavering support to the GPH-NDFP peace talks under the Aquino government.

Such a peace advocacy must: 1) eschew the militarist solution to armed conflicts; 2) acknowledge the underlying socio-economic roots of the war and therefore the need to address these in order to achieve a just and lasting peace; and 3) call for accelerating the peace talks along the course agreed upon by the two parties, i.e., tackling each substantive agenda in sequence and working out and implementing agreements as basis for a comprehensive political settlement that will finally still the guns of war.

Indeed, the only guarantee that the GPH-NDFP peace talks can and will bear the fruits that future generations can partake of rests entirely on our people’s burning desire and continuing struggle for freedom, justice, equity, and an enduring peace. — Reposted by (

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