“…if previously signed agreements are not honored, what guarantees does the NDFP have that future agreements would not be similarly violated by the GRP?”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The peace panel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) is keen on clinching a bilateral ceasefire agreement while the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) maintained that the GRP should first comply with previously signed agreements.
During the opening ceremonies of the third round of talks between the GRP and the NDFP in Rome, Italy, GRP panel chairperson Silvestre Bello III said, “…I am one with President Duterte’s optimism that in this round of talks, we are able to finalize and approve the joint ceasefire agreement.”
Both parties declared separate unilateral ceasefire in August as a confidence-building measure. Bello said the indefinite ceasefires resulted in “lowering the level of violence on the ground.” He added, “…we both earned confidence that allowed us to start the discussion of a possible joint ceasefire that will hopefully lay the groundwork for ending hostilities.”
In his speech, Jose Maria Sison, NDFP chief political consultant, said a bilateral ceasefire is possible “if the GRP complies with the CARHRIHL by releasing all political prisoners listed by the NDFP who have been unjustly and wrongly imprisoned on trumped up charges of common crimes.”
The CARHRIHL or the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed by the GRP and the NDFP in March 1998. It upholds, among others, the Hernandez political doctrine, which prohibits criminalization of political dissent.
In his remarks, NDFP peace panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said that the release of political prisoners should not be seen as a mere confidence-building measure or a gift to the NDFP.
“It is an obligation of the GRP under CARHRIHL,” he said. “Neither should the political prisoners be treated as trump cards to extract concessions from the NDFP. Such conduct is bound to further erode mutual trust and confidence.”
Sison added that the most effective remedy for such release is through general amnesty as President Duterte himself told the NDFP emissary in May 2016.
Bello maintained however that the release of political prisoners should be through judicial processes, bail, recognizance and pardon. He said a withdrawal of information could also facilitate the release of political prisoners.
A day before the resumption of talks, the NDFP enumerated what it considered as GRP violations to CARHRIHL and Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig). Signed in 1995, Jasig guarantees the safety and immunity from suit, harassment, arrest, detention, or any other form of attack of all those involved in the peace talks.
Contrary to Bello’s statement that the unilateral ceasefire boosted the confidence of both parties, Agcaoili said police and military forces continued their military operations in communities perceived to be strongholds of the New People’s Army.
The NDFP said soldiers continue to occupy schools, health and day care centers, barangay halls, public plazas, and even bus stops and private residences in more than 43 provinces and 146 municipalities all over the country.
Sison said the NDFP is in a position to end its unilateral ceasefire declaration anytime. “It [NDFP] is well aware that the longer a reciprocal or joint ceasefire runs without any substantial benefit for the people, the armed revolution can lose momentum and allow the GRP to impose its campaign plan of pacification and ignore the demands of the people and the NDFP for social, economic and political reforms,” he said.
The NDFP also cited the continuing detention of Jasig-protected NDFP consultants Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza violate Jasig. The three are serving their sentence at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City. Agcaoili said they were arrested and convicted on trumped-up charges.
“…if previously signed agreements are not honored, what guarantees does the NDFP have that future agreements would not be similarly violated by the GRP?” Agcaoili said.
Amid the thorny issues yet to be settled, both parties said they are prepared to exchange drafts and discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (Caser) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR).