“Refusing to release the NDFP consultants should not be made by the government as the crux of the matter such that a collapse of the talks becomes imminent.” – Bishop Felixberto Calang
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Several groups have criticized the Government of the Philippines (GPH) for refusing to proceed with either formal talks or the special track in its peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In a statement posted at the website of the Office of Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process (Opapp), GPH panel chairman Alexander Padilla said: “The GPH doesn’t want to return to the regular track (formal talks) because it has been going nowhere for the last 27 years.” Padilla also said that discussions in the special track have also been closed, claiming the NDFP has imposed preconditions.
“The government should not be the first to lose hope,” Bishop Felixberto Calang, main convener of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.com.
The regular track, also referred as the formal talks, is based on the framework under the The Hague Joint Declaration. The 1992 bilateral agreement outlines four substantive agenda items – human rights and international humanitarian law; socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
The so-called special track, on the other hand, is the NDFP’s response to the GPH’s declaration that it wanted to fast-track the peace talks.
Padilla, however, shunned both mechanisms and announced that the GPH will take on new approach to peace.
“I am perplexed as to the ease with which the government has given up on the talks,” Calang said. “Why should the Gingoog NPA attack on Mayor Ruthie Guingona be treated as some sort of the ‘last straw’ for the government when even the supposedly aggrieved party has called for the resumption of peace talks between the NDFP and the government?,” he asked.
The New People’s Army (NPA) had engaged armed bodyguards of the mayor of Gingoog City in Mindanao in an armed confrontation on April 20, 2013 which left two dead and wounded Guingona. The Guingona family had called for the resumption of the GPH-NDFP peace talks to avert similar incidents in the future.
Malacañang earlier said the Gingoog incident has nothing to do with the so-called new approach to the peace talks.
The Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao urged Padilla “persevere in either the regular or special tracks of its peace negotiations” with the NDFP.
“The government should not be disheartened that the talks had persisted for 27 years since 1986. Adding up together the actual time spent on the talks, it had transpired only for less than 365 days. For the rest of the time, there was a hiatus,” the bishop said.
Calang said the release of detained NDFP consultants, which the GPH portrayed as a “precondition of the NDFP,” is in accordance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed by both parties.
“Refusing to release the NDFP consultants should not be made by the government as the crux of the matter such that a collapse of the talks becomes imminent,” he said.
As to the “new approach” being considered by the GPH, Calang said “any creative or innovative way to push the talks forward will have to be within the bounds of the The Hague Joint Declaration.
“If the ‘new approach’ is unacceptable to either party and dissolves ‘The Hague,’ then it becomes counterproductive,” Calang said.
Addressing roots of the armed conflict
Meanwhile, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also assailed the Aquino government for “closing the doors to peace and genuine land reform.” KMP deputy secretary general Randall Echanis said “the real reason behind Padilla’s statement is the GPH’s lack of interest on the next substantive agenda on social and economic reforms.”
In 1998, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP signed an agreement on the first agenda, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
“It is the Aquino government who is not sincere in achieving peace. The Aquino government’s refusal to go back to the negotiating table is linked with its lack of interest to discuss genuine land reform and national industrialization to address the root causes of the ongoing civil war,” Echanis, also an NDFP consultant and member of the Reciprocal Working Committee on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-Caser), said.
Echanis said the NDFP, as early as February 2011, presented its draft of Caser to the GPH but the GPH has not presented any draft.
“What the GPH presented was a short presentation in powerpoint, pointing to the climate change as the root cause of the armed conflict,” Echanis said in a meeting called for by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), April 30. “It is funny, even ridiculous.” Echanis further said “the GPH is only making hype over the so-called preconditions by the NDFP as a convoluted excuse for its incompetence to address the root causes of the civil war.”
In a report, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the NDFP’s “use of outdated ideas as national industrialization” blocks the progress of the talks. In reaction, Echanis said: “Lacierda’s mode of thinking shows ignorance on the root causes of the civil war and is an insult to Filipino peasants who are being pushed by the present oppressive and exploitative conditions to take up arms. The absence of genuine land reform and national industrialization perpetuates injustice against farmers and the prevailing agrarian and backward Philippine countryside and society.”
“There was clearly ‘less talk’ in the peace talks through the years, why should the government now expect ‘more peace’?” Calang asked. “We should work for ‘more talk towards more peace’, even though the civil war continues.”