Not just an issue of violence

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last December 22, a major daily published (as full-page ad) an appeal titled “Cease all hostilities until the 2016 elections.” It’s addressed to the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). It has 124 signatories “representing indigenous peoples, women, business, church groups, local government units, the academe and other sectors.”

The signatories thank the GPH and the NDFP “for heeding our call to declare a ceasefire during the Christmas season.” (The ceasefire, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, wasn’t mutually agreed but separately and unilaterally declared, first by the NDFP then by the GPH). They urge both sides to extend the ceasefire to June 8, 2016 “to ensure the electorate and candidates’ safety and security during the election period.”

They also urged all candidates, national and local, to pressure both sides to declare a prolonged ceasefire and all presidential aspirants “to pledge that they will restore direct negotiations with the NDFP during the first 100 days of the new administration.”

Pressing for an end to the 46-year armed conflict, the appeal ends thus: “We can neither accept nor condone the enormous and painful loss of human lives and economic activities from a war each side claims is being waged in our behalf.”

That ending statement is intriguing. Are the signatories bereft of sympathy – either for the soldiers of the state or for the revolutionary fighters who have fallen in battle – and coldly dismiss the armed conflict as having no meaning to them or to the people’s welfare and future?

Having been familiar with the periodic appeals over the years by various peace advocacy groups and personages – that invariably made sure to premise their calls on “addressing the root causes of the armed conflict” in order to attain a just and lasting peace – I find that primordial element utterly absent in the December 22 appeal.

Instead, the statement singly focuses on a prolonged ceasefire correlated with the May 9 national and local elections. It has two faulty premises: First, it implies that the protracted armed conflict between the government and the Left revolutionary forces – not the violence and killings inflicted by private armies of rival politicians – is the primary “peace and order” problem during elections. Second, it ignores the fact that the CPP-NPA-NDFP has never participated in any elections.

The only redeeming aspect of the appeal is the call on each presidential aspirant to pledge (after winning) to “restore direct negotiations with the NDFP” – which the P-Noy government has chosen to spurn (as will be shown later in this piece).

Who initiated the December 22 appeal? The answer may be found in the letter sent by Alexander A. Padilla, GPH peace panel chair,, to Francisco L. Lara Jr. one of the signatories. On Dec. 28 Padilla wrote to Lara:

“We are pleased to provide you with the attached GPH Panel Chair’s statement in response to your call to “Cease all hostilities until the 2016 elections…We… thank you for your steadfast support to the government’s peace effort with the CPP-NPA-NDFP, and would be happy to meet with you on how together we can re-invigorate our protracted peace process… and finally achieve the peace we all desire.”

Lara was part of a GPH team that, last year, held informal discussions with the NDFP panel in Oslo and Utrecht to find ways of surmounting the impasse in the peace talks since June 2011. However, intervention by the OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) prevented the conclusion of agreements preliminarily arrived at by the two sides.

Now, let’s look into Padilla’s response to the appeal, in a letter published yesterday. For lack of space, I can only cite three of the points he raises:

• That the continuing violence in the armed conflict violates the people’s human rights to life, liberty, and a safe and peaceful environment. “The senseless violence must end,” he says, “and it is the task of all peace-loving people to create a conducive environment, especially during the coming election period, for the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.”

Padilla tosses to the people the task of creating a conducive environment for resolving the armed conflict. And why “especially during the coming election period”? He ignores the significant GRP-NDFP agreement, signed in 1998, that could have helped achieve such an objective. But the Aquino government has chosen not to implement it, even as the Norwegian government has been funding the offices of the Joint Monitoring Committee mandated to implement the accord.

I refer to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, or CARHR-IHL. It provides for a process of joint GRP-NDFP investigation of complaints filed against either the AFP or the NPA, imposes sanctions/penalties on the proven offending party, and provides compensation to the victims. Assiduous implementation of the CARHR-IHL could have put to test the sincerity of both parties to the agreement and could have reduced the incidence of violence affecting civilians in the conduct of the armed conflict.

• Given the six months remaining for the Aquino administration, it “can no longer realistically pursue the negotiations and expect results.” Ergo, Padilla says, “pursue peace with a limited agenda: reach agreement with the NDFP to reduce the level of armed violence on the ground, and restore the public trust in the peace process.”

• However, Padilla egregiously avers that the NDFP is not the right party to talk peace with.. Why? “The NDFP,” he says, “is a political coalition of various revolutionary groups, but does not include the CPP and the NPA [emphasis mine].” He is either ignorant or lying, as he knows very well that the CPP/NPA constitutes the largest and the leading revolutionary organization within the NDFP.

Advice to Padilla: Get your facts right. Research pa more, Alex!

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Published in The Philippine Star
January 9, 2016

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