“They’re [GPH] so enthusiastic about the schedule but they are the ones putting stumbling blocks.” – NDFP
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Formal talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are in danger of being stalled as the GPH has not fulfilled its commitment to release detained NDFP consultants.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP peace panel member and chair of the NDFP Human Rights Committee, scored the GPH for not releasing most, if not all, of the 17 detained NDFP consultants and other persons protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).
In the Joint Communique signed by both parties on January 18, 2011, the GPH, through its negotiating panel, committed itself “to work for the expeditious release of detained NDFP consultants and other Jasig-protected persons in compliance with the Jasig and in the spirit of goodwill.”
Signed in February 1995, Jasig guarantees the safety and immunity of negotiators, consultants and all personnel who participate in the peace negotiations.
“Since January, only Angie Ipong was released and then no more,” Agcaoili said. Ipong was released on Feb. 17 after six years of detention. All the charges filed against her were dismissed for lack of evidence.
“They’re [GPH] so enthusiastic about the schedule but they are the ones putting stumbling blocks,” Agcaoli said, referring to the timetable agreed upon by the two panels during the resumption of peace talks in February. “The schedule of formal talks in June remains uncertain,” Agcaoili said.
In a separate statement sent through email, Luis Jalandoni, chair of the NDFP negotiating panel, said that the “sincerity of the GPH under President Benigno Aquino III is under serious question because of the failure to release Alan Jazmines and other consultants of the NDFP and Jasig-protected persons.”
Jazmines was arrested on the eve of formal peace talks in February and charged with common crimes. He was recently appointed by the NDFP national leadership as member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER).
Jalandoni said Jazmines is unable to fulfill his crucially important function for the SER negotiations which address the roots of the armed conflict. “Instead of being released, he has been threatened with forcible transfer by the military.”
Jalandoni also cited the arrest and detention of Tirso “Ka Bart” Alcantara who, according to Jalandoni, is publicly known to have participated in the peace process. Alcantara signed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) certificate for the release of Army Major Noel Buan in April 2001.
Alcantara, a high-ranking official of the New People’s Army, was arrested on Jan. 4 with his companion Apolonio Cuarto.
Agcaoili said that on May 27, Jalandoni sent a letter to Alexander Padilla, chair of the GPH negotiating panel, regarding the release of Jasig-protected individuals. As of press time, no reply has been made.
“Alex [Padilla] is a bit disappointing. I expected more from him. He is not only a mouthpiece of the regime but actually justifying false accusations against the revolutionary movement,” Agcaoili said.
Agcaoili told Bulatlat that on May 1, the NDFP has submitted to the GPH a matrix of human rights violations committed against the 17 NDFP consultants and Jasig-protected individuals.
The list of NDFP consultants also includes Eduardo Serrano, Leopoldo Caloza, Emeterio Antalan, Edgardo Friginal, Glicerio Pernia, Jaime Soledad, Randy Felix Malayao, Eduardo Sarmiento, Ramon Patriarca, Jovencio Balweg Sr., Alfredo Mapano, Ma. Luisa Purcray.
Besides Alcantara and Jazmines, also arrested during the Aquino administration were Danilo Badayos, Pedro Codaste and Edwin Brigano.
Agcaoili said that during the term of the late Ambassador Howard Dee as chair of then Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) panel, all that is needed for the release of Jasig-protected persons is the presentation of document of identification (DI). Under Jasig, DI are issued to negotiators, consultants, staffers, security personnel of both parties. Names, including assumed names of holders of documents of identification (DI), are contained in a depository box.
“Now, they have too many reasons [for not releasing prisoners],” Agcaoili said, adding that the GPH must immediately proceed with the verification.
“President Aquino must act decisively to honor solemn GPH commitments so that the peace negotiations can advance. Expeditious release does not mean months of non-compliance and indecision,” Jalandoni said.
“If they cannot respect Jasig, how can we believe that the GPH would respect bigger agreements?” Agcaoili said.
During the formal talks in February, the GPH also made a commitment “to undertake steps for the release of prisoners and detainees.” “More than 340 political prisoners await concrete action by the GPH in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),” Jalandoni said.
Signed by both parties in 1999, CARHRIHL upholds human rights and international humanitarian law, including political and civil rights.
Agcaoili said that while RWC-SER and working committees for political and constitutional reforms of both parties agreed to hold meetings this June, there would be no formal negotiations. “Nothing becomes official. Agreements, if reached, are merely drafts.”
“The continuing failure of the Aquino government to stand by its commitment for expeditious release in compliance with a solemn peace agreement – the Jasig—seriously prejudices the advance of peace talks on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms,” Jalandoni said.
“This regime wants to make it appear that it is different from the previous one when actually it is more deceptive. Oplan Bayanihan is nothing but Oplan Bantay Laya with a smiling face,” Agcaoili said.
Oplan Bayanihan is the counterinsurgency program of the Aquino administration and Oplan Bantay Laya is former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program.