Cautious, restrained steps on peace, anti-drug issues


On his seventh month in office President Duterte has come to the crucial stages of his two major initiatives and campaign promises: resume and pursue the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, and put an end to the illegal drugs problem. And on both issues he ought to respond, not with his signature brashness and truculence, but with cautiousness, restraint, deeper deliberation, and wider consultations.

To some degree, presumably because he wants to preserve the gains so far achieved in the peace negotiations, he has acted in a more positive manner in his response to the CPP-NPA’s announced withdrawal – by Feb. 10 – of its unilateral interim ceasefire declaration made on Aug. 27, 2016.

On the other hand, the public initially received with approval his response to the embarrassing revelations of top police officials’ involvement in nefarious crimes under cover of his brutal and bloody campaign against illegal drugs: he suspended the drive and ordered the “cleansing” of the PNP. But his instant idea of using the AFP to carry out the cleansing, and of reviving the Philippine Constabulary – notorious for human rights violations under the Marcos dictatorship – has been resoundingly rejected as propositions that have not been well thought out, and even dangerous.

Reciprocating the President’s earlier declaration of a unilateral interim ceasefire, the CPP-NPA declared its own ceasefire in August to boost the favorable atmosphere for resuming and accelerating the pace of the peace talks (suspended since June 2011). In announcing its withdrawal the other day, the CPP-NPA cited the unfulfilled but repeated written GRP promise to release more (if not all) political prisoners, plus the incursions and occupation by AFP troops of 500-plus communities in NPA-claimed areas, disrupting the people’s livelihood and violating the spirit of the reciprocal ceasefire.

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Duterte didn’t withdraw his own ceasefire (as he had already done before, in July last year). Moreover, his peace adviser and peace negotiators have said they wouldn’t recommend doing so, pointing out that the ceasefire committees of the two sides have agreed to meet in the Netherlands later this month and discuss a possible bilateral ceasefire.

In a speech in Malacanang, the President modulated his tone as he urged the Left forces not to pressure him too hard (“huwag ninyo akong ipitin”) on the release of all political prisoners, as this might anger the military. “They might kill me, and whom will you be talking peace with if that happens?” Maybe he was sort of joking. Or, if he was thinking of what happened in Chile in 1971, when the military assassinated left-leaning President Salvador Allende in a coup that was most likely instigated by the CIA, maybe he was reminding the CPP-NPA that they had promised to support and protect him in such a scenario.

But Duterte has changed his stand on a general amnesty proclamation to release all current political prisoners. As president-elect he had offered to do just that, in his talk on May 8 and 10, 2016 with Fidel V. Agcaoili who is now head of the NDFP peace panel. Agcaoili had requested that trumped-up criminal charges filed against 22 detained NDFP consultants be archived, thus enabling them to participate in the peace talks. Duterte countered by offering amnesty as the most expeditious way for releasing all the political prisoners, and he did cause the release of 19 of 22 consultants (for which the NDFP has profusely thanked him).

Now Duterte, presumably after receiving advice from the military, is saying that only after a final settlement of the 48-year-long armed conflict has been negotiated will he issue such a general amnesty proclamation. He ought to confer in earnest with his peace negotiators, to thresh out the difference between the type of amnesty he offered in May (the same as the one issued by both Presidents Corazon C. Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos) and a final mutual general amnesty, that shall apply to both sides in the armed conflict. The latter will form part of a Comprehensive Agreement on the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (subject of the last agenda in the GRP-NDFP peace talks). There’s no contradiction between the two types of amnesties. They differ only in their contexts.

Moreover, his peace adviser and negotiators ought to apprise the President that the GRP is duty bound to release the political prisoners under the CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law), signed in 1998. The two peace panels, in their joint statement issued in Rome last Jan. 25, have finally agreed to fully implement the landmark accord.

Under the CARHRIHL the government is committed to review the cases of all political prisoners and to immediately release those who may be found to have been arrested, charged, and convicted of common criminal offenses, in most cases fabricated. (This prosecutorial practice began under the first Aquino government. It violates the political offense doctrine, otherwise known as the Amado V. Hernandez doctrine, formulated by the Supreme Court in 1956. Since then, the SC has upheld the doctrine several times, including on the case filed in 1989 – rebellion complexed with murder – against Juan Ponce Enrile, then the defense secretary, in connection with the multiple coup attempts led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement.)

In order to fully focus their efforts on the social, economic, and political reforms that would resolve the armed conflict, President Duterte, his peace adviser and negotiators need to finally fullfill GRP obligations under the CARHRIHL before the fourth round of talks are held in Oslo in early April. With their NDFP counterparts, the issues arising from the reciprocal unilateral ceasefires also need to be settled.

Indeed, the Duterte government’s plate is full, as the public also expects it to find acceptable solutions to the illegal drugs campaign that will not be in contradiction to due process, and to also devise a way of “cleansing” the PNP that does not merely involve changing its name or reviving the old, discredited constabulary.

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Published in The Philippine Star
Feb. 4, 2017

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