“OPAPP [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] Secretary Deles and Alexander Padilla are setting obstacles to the application of JASIG. They violate the letter and spirit of the JASIG. They cannot declare as ‘inoperative’ a solemn peace agreement approved by the Principals of both Parties.” – Luis Jalandoni, NDFP
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) maintained that the alleged top leaders of the communist movement who were arrested a few days ago Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria are covered by the safety and immunity pact and should therefore be released.
In an email interview, NDFP peace panel chairman Luis Jalandoni told Bulatlat.com that Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon, both NDFP consultants, are covered by the protection of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig). The NDFP said Austria is holder of NDFP Document of Identification ND978226 under her real name and Tiamzon is the holder of NDFP Document of Identification ND 978227 under the assumed name “Crising Banaag.”
Austia, Tiamzon and five others were arrested by state security forces in Carcar, Cebu Saturday March 22. They are now detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame, Quezon City.
In a statement, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel said the failure of the verification process of Jasig-protected persons has rendered Jasig inoperative. The GPH panel said that the NDFP, in July 2011, failed to open the files containing the identities of Jasig-protected individuals. The GPH panel did not mention, however, that the diskettes containing the files were among those taken by the Dutch police during a raid of the NDFP office in Utrecht, the Netherlands in August 2007. The diskettes were eventually returned but could no longer be opened.
“OPAPP [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process] Secretary Deles and Alexander Padilla are setting obstacles to the application of JASIG. They violate the letter and spirit of the JASIG. They cannot declare as ‘inoperative’ a solemn peace agreement approved by the Principals of both Parties,” Jalandoni told Bulatlat.com.
Signed in 1995 by then the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP, Jasig provides all duly accredited persons guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in travelling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations. Duly accredited persons are those in possession of documents of identification (DI) or safe conduct passes. Immunity guarantees for all accredited persons include immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.
In a separate interview, Edre Olalia, legal consultant of the NDFP peace panel, said either party could not unilaterally declare Jasig as inoperative. “Under Jasig, either party can suspend or terminate Jasig through a written notice and such would take effect 30 days after the notice,” Olalia explained.
Olalia said the 30-day period is necessary to secure all persons involved in the peace talks.
Olalia reminded OPAPP that the objectives of Jasig are “to facilitate the peace talks, create a favorable atmosphere conducive to free discussion and to avert any incident that may jeopardize the peace talks.”
In a report by alternative media outfit Davao Today, former GRP panel chairman Silvestre Bello III said “the JASIG took effect upon signing by the parties and will be in effect until it is terminated by either party through a written notice.”
The GPH has so far not issued a formal notice suspending or terminating the Jasig.
Olalia said further that there are many other means to verify the identity of Jasig-protected persons other than opening the diskettes. He likewise pointed out that Austria and Tiamzon are publicly known NDFP peace consultants.
The use of aliases, meanwhile, has been the practice of some NDFP consultants since 1995, Olalia said.
Olalia said that Jasig was formulated to avoid a repeat of the tragic incidents after the collapse of the 1986 peace talks. “After the collapse of talks, many of those identified in the peace talks were detained or disappeared or killed.”
“It is thus commonsensical that if the government wants to encourage people to help in the peace negotiations, there has to be assurance that they would not suffer any reprisal,” Olalia said.
Peace negotiations still on
Jalandoni said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is wrong in stating that there are no peace negotiations just because the two panels have not been meeting.
“In the past, there were times that the two panels were not meeting, because the talks were stalled, or there was an adjournment or recess, but the peace negotiations are still on,” Jalandoni said.
The NDFP panel chairman added that despite the impasse, the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law is still functioning and there was a time the reciprocal working committees on socio-economic reforms were meeting. Jalandoni said that just recently, he, Coni Ledesma, NDFP panel member and NDFP political consultant Vicente Ladlad met with GPH panel chairman Alexander Padilla and Royal Norwegian Embassy Official on the Royal Norwegian Government’s (RNG) proposal for informal talks to be held in Oslo this May. The RNG has been serving as the third party facilitator of the GPH-NDFP peace talks.
“So, it is a mistaken stand of Secretary de Lima, that the JASIG is not valid and binding because there are no peace negotiations,” Jalandoni explained.
Jalandoni also said that De Lima’s position that the Jasig should not undermine the GPH justice system is also wrong. Jalandoni stated that then GRP President Fidel Ramos issued on September 19, 1995 the Executive Order No. 276 Formalizing the Inter-Agency Safety And Immunity Guarantees (SIG) Committee for the GRP-NDFP Peace Talks.
“This is a GRP executive order effective immediately, part of the GRP/GPH justice system, setting up a permanent committee to oversee the implementation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and to resolve problems arising from the same,” Jalandoni said.
For his part, Olalia said domestic law could not be used as an excuse for non-compliance with binding international agreements. Jasig, he said, is a binding international agreement.
Citing the principle in international law of pacta sunt sevanda (promises/agreements must be kept), Olalia said agreements and their clauses must be kept/performed in good faith and are binding between parties.
In November 2011, 13 legal experts from the US, Europe, Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the Philippines issued a statement urging the GPH to respect and comply with previously signed agreements between the GPH and NDFP. Jan Fermon, one of the members of the International Legal Advisory Team (Ilat) said, “Agreements are binding and not only pieces of paper,” Fermon said. “One of the basic principles of international law is that agreements must be executed in good faith. There are no documents without obligation.”
Olalia said the Aquino administration is “undermining Jasig by fabricating common crimes against their clients.”
A serious blow to the peace talks
Jalandoni said the recent arrests are “a flagrant violation of the JASIG and most seriously prejudice the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations.”
“GPH President Aquino shows he is more interested in imprisoning a few leaders of the revolutionary movement than in pursuing urgently needed peace negotiations with the NDFP. Refusing to respect binding and valid bilateral peace agreements, he is in fact responsible for killing the peace negotiations with the NDFP,” Jalandoni said.
Asked to comment on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) statement calling on the revolutionary movement to lay down arms, Jalandoni said, “The AFP is hallucinating in thinking that the revolutionary movement will surrender and give up the revolutionary struggle. In the face of worsening exploitation and oppression and the escalation of human rights violations of the regime, the people’s armed and non-armed resistance will grow stronger. As the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) stated recently, on a daily basis hundreds, mostly peasants, join the NPA [New People’s Army], the people’s militia and self-defense units of mass organizations.”