Duterte’s recognition and respect for these previously-signed agreements has opened doors for both the resumption of peace talks and the release of political prisoners through peace talks.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Detained peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) expressed their hope that newly-inaugurated President Rodrigo Duterte will soon order the release of political prisoners, as formal peace talks with the new Philippine government resumes this month.
In a joint statement furnished to Bulatlat, NDFP consultants and spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria said the release of political prisoners will show the Duterte administration’s commitment to honor previously signed peace agreements.
“The Oslo joint statement acknowledges previously signed agreements such as the Jasig. This should entail the immediate release of consultants to the NDFP and the rest who are supposedly Jasig-protected and are direct participants to the resumption of the peace talks,” read the statement.
Jasig stands for Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, which was signed to assure both parties that their negotiators and consultants will be able to fulfill their role in the peace negotiations without being subjected to surveillance, be arrested or charged before a court.
The NDFP had lambasted the violation of Jasig under the past Aquino and Arroyo administrations, with the arrest and detention of NDFP peace consultants. A total of 18 peace consultants are among the 543 political prisoners documented by human rights group Karapatan. Nine peace consultants were arrested under Aquino.
The Tiamzons have been in detention since 2014, and Aquino had repeatedly flaunted about their arrest in his speeches, and in his last State of the Nation Address in 2015.
The Tiamzons noted that Duterte’s presidential peace advisers had pledged to recommend to him the release of detained NDFP consultants, and to free other political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, especially the sick and the elderly.
After a two-day exploratory talks in June, the GPH-NDFP peace panels signed a joint statement in Oslo, Norway on June 15, agreeing to the five-point agenda in the resumption of the negotiations:
-the affirmation of signed agreements
-the accelerated process for the negotiations, including a timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks
-reconstitution of the NDFP Jasig list
-amnesty for political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress
-the mode of interim ceasefire
In his inauguration speech on June 30, Duterte himself said his administration “is committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms.”
Among the previously-signed agreements are: the 1992 The Hague Joint Declaration, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl), and the Jasig. The Philippine government and the NDFP are set to discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser). The other remaining substantive agenda are political and constitutional reforms, and cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces.
“What would be the point of negotiating and forging another agreement if these are not to be recognized and respected? Duterte’s recognition and respect for these previously-signed agreements has opened doors for both the resumption of peace talks and the release of political prisoners through peace talks,” the Tiamzons’ statement read.
Before leaving for Oslo, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza described in a media interview that the mode of interim ceasefire will be “most important point of discussion.”
The Tiamzon spouses said the proposed interim ceasefire is “extensive but temporary” as a response to the “meaningful initiatives and declarations of the newly-elected president,” who, they said, opened its doors to both revolutionary and progressive forces towards unity and cooperation, and pushing for necessary reforms needed in the country.
“It is aimed to create goodwill and favorable atmosphere, and good faith and mutual trust for an accelerated peace negotiations towards the forging of a comprehensive agreement that would provide reforms on social, economic, political, and the end of hostilities,” the Tiamzons said.
However, the Tiamzons warned that there would be reactionary and anti-communist forces that would stand against a successful peace negotiation between the Philippine government and the NDFP, adding that “every step in the peace talks would be full of struggles, maneuverings, and collisions.”
Still, they expressed optimism that for as long as Duterte is “serious and persistent in pursuing peace talks, our chance to finally resolve the roots of armed conflict and release political prisoners remain.”