By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPh) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have again hit a snag. Accusations as to who is causing the impasse are being hurled from both camps. The sad thing is that instead of proceeding with the talks to settle the contentious points, it has been postponed indefinitely.
Apparently, what triggered the exchange were the delays in the release of NDFP personalities who the NDFP asserts as being covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), on the one hand, and the GPh being incensed over the taking, in separate incidents, of Lingig Mayor Henry Dano and four jail officials by the New People’s Army (NPA) . However, it is the GPh who declared an indefinite postponement of the talks.
There are still 13 out of the 17 NDFP personalities who have yet to be released. One of them Alan Jazmines was arrested hours before the start of the peace talks in February. It has been reported that Jazmines even declared the details of his Jasig ID to his arresting officers but the military refused to honor it. The NDFP said the four, including Jovencio Balweg, were released not through the efforts of the Aquino government but because the courts dismissed the cases filed against them for lack of merit. The Aquino government, on the other hand, is claiming that it has released the four as a “goodwill measure” and that it has no obligation to release the other detainees.
Jail Warden Insp. Eric Llamasares, Jail Inspector Murphy Todyog, Special Jail Officer 2 Rogelio Begontes, and Jail Officer 1 Rolando Bajuyo Jr. were taken at a roadblock set up by the NPA in Bukidnon last July. Lingig Mayor Henry Dano and his two Army escorts were taken last August 6. The Aquino government is saying that the NPA has been using them to gain the release of the NDFP leaders.
The NDFP has accused the government of reneging on its signed agreements specifically, its commitment to release most, if not all of the 17 detained NDFP personalities as expressed in the GPh-NDFP joint statements issued in January and February of this year, the Jasig, which protects those involved in the peace negotiations from arrest, and the 1992 Hague Declaration, which lays down the processes to be followed by the peace negotiations, including the sequence of the discussions on the substantive agenda. To further imperil the peace talks, the NDFP said, the government panel even issued a warning that “no NDF personnel shall enjoy the protection of Jasig until formal talks are made possible” by the completion of CASER.
The government, on the other hand, accused the NDFP of merely being interested in the release of NPA leaders, of committing criminal acts by taking Mayor Dano and the four jail officials, and of escalating its attacks while talking peace.
How should we then move forward in the peace talks with the contentious issues at hand? What are the chances that the peace negotiations would achieve its objective of securing a just and lasting peace?
The chances of success of any negotiation is contingent on: the commitment of both sides to the negotiations; the clarity in framework, processes and ground rules; a conducive atmosphere brought about by mutual respect and trust of each other’s commitment to the negotiations; sufficient authority of both panels to forge an agreement; and the commitment of all stakeholders, especially the principals, to abide by and implement the agreements to be signed.
There are enough agreements, which were signed by both the GPh and NDFP, to cover these. The 1992 The Hague Declaration enunciated the commitment of both sides to the negotiations for a just and lasting peace, has set the framework, agenda and processes of the negotiations, and the mutually acceptable principles. The Breukelen Joint Statement identified some points of disagreement and the commitment of both sides to pursue further discussions to arrive at agreements on these in order to realize the objectives of the The Hague Declaration. The Jasig was signed in 1995 to provide immunity guarantees to those participating in the talks, upon certification by any of the panels. Supplemental agreements detailing the ground rules, the formation, sequencing, and operationalization of the reciprocal working committees corresponding to the substantive agenda of the negotiations, and additional implementing rules to Jasig were also signed.
Proof of the effectiveness of these measures is the forging of an agreement on the first substantive agenda: the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
However, the problems seem to lie on the last three conditions: there are accusations from both sides questioning the sincerity of the other and the NDFP is decrying the violations of the GPh on the Jasig with the arrest of its consultants and the delays in the implementation of an agreement that would pave the way for the release of 17 NDFP personalities.
As far as the joint statement issued by the GPH and NDFP is concerned, the government has committed to release the detained NDFP personalities
To quote: “Based on the Joint Notes dated January 18, 2011, the GPH shall continue to work on appropriate measures to effect the expeditious release of all or most of the fourteen (14) NDFP listed JASIG consultants and personalities before the second round of formal talks, subject to verification as provided in the JASIG Supplemental Agreement dated June 26, 1996, or on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons.” (Oslo Joint Statement, February 21, 2011)
If the GPh would like to question whether some or all of the detained NDFP personalities are indeed Jasig holders then it should have proceeded with the verification process.
Also contained in the statement: “The GPh as confidence-building measure reiterated its commitment to undertake steps for the release of prisoners and detainees, including those committed to be released as found in the Second Oslo Joint Statement of 2004.
Releasing the NDFP consultants and all political prisoners is not only a matter of compliance to the agreement and a confidence-building measure, it is also incumbent upon a democratic government, especially one that has promised “change.” This was one of the first acts of the late former president Corazon Aquino, the current president’s mother, to signal her administration’s break from the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos and in recognition of the role the political prisoners played in fighting the fascist dictatorship.
The GPh, on the other hand, is questioning the NDFP for taking Mayor Dano and his two military escorts, and the four jail guards. It also criticized the NDFP for escalating its attacks while talking peace. In effect, it is questioning the sincerity of the NDFP in the peace talks.
Well, for one, there is no ceasefire agreement so combat operations of both sides are expected. In fact, gmanews.tv reported that two NPA guerrillas were killed recently in Samar. Reports reaching Bulatlat have also indicated that there has been no let-up in military operations with its concomitant human rights violations, with the new counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. Impunity in the commission of human rights violations has not been broken.
As for Mayor Dano, if indeed he did not participate in or led military operations, he should be released by the NPA. If he did, he forfeits his status as a civilian and non-combatant and would, therefore, qualify as a prisoner of war, with rights defined by International Humanitarian Law. The same applies to the four jail guards.
The problem with Oplan Bayanihan is that it involves all government agencies in counterinsurgency operations. Nevertheless, the peace talks could be used as a venue for facilitating their release and settling all of these contentious issues.
Of course, the GPh’s problem with negotiating for the release of Mayor Dano, his military escorts and the four jail guards is that if it does so, it feels that it is recognizing the political authority and status of belligerency of the NDFP. That is why the Aquino government has been calling the taking of the mayor as a “kidnapping” and a “criminal act.”
But if both sides are sincere in their desire to achieve a just a lasting peace through the negotiations, then whether or not the NDFP has political authority and influence over parts of the country should not be the main issue. What is important is that both sides are still willing to talk to try to settle the armed conflict and achieve a just and lasting peace or at the minimum, to “humanize” the war. It is not only in their best interest to do so but for the Filipino people as well.