Fixation on ceasefire trumps peace talks gains


President Duterte’s four-day blustering last week – withdrawing the government’s unilateral ceasefire, “cancelling” the GRP-NDFP peace talks, ordering the re-arrest of 17 NDFP consultants released in August to join the peace negotiations, and tagging as “terrorists” the CPP-NPA and NDFP – has upended his previous stance (in the first six months of his term) of openness to cooperation with the revolutionary movement.

By switching back to a military solution to 48 years of armed conflict, Duterte now treads the path of strategic failure that his predecessors (save for President Fidel V. Ramos) obdurately and foolishly took. In this regard, will the “change” he promised in the campaign be coming after all?

With the NDFP averring that negotiations could go on without a ceasefire, a host of peace-advocacy formations urged both parties not to abandon the talks. But on Monday the military arrested one of the released NDFP consultants in a Davao City checkpoint, ignoring his JASIG ID that guarantees his immunity from arrest. Immediately the NDFP negotiating panel denounced the arrest as a violation of the JASIG which, as reaffirmed by the two panels in August, remained in effect because the GRP had not yet taken the step of terminating it in writing.

On Tuesday Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, echoing Duterte’s terrorist tagging, declared an “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA. Defiantly the latter riposted they could survive the all-out war, as they have been doing since the Marcos dictatorship. The other day, the AFP and PNP reportedly signed an agreement to strengthen their joint counterinsurgency operation down to the provincial level.

Meantime, Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza sent, via email on Tuesday, a brief letter addressed to Jose Ma. Sison, NDFP chief political consultant, and Fidel V. Agcaoili, NDFP panel chair. Following the President’s announcement of cancellation of the talks, it says, the GRP “is hereby serving notice of the termination of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).”

However, on Thursday Agcaoili said the NDFP couldn’t acknowledge receipt of Dureza’s email, rejecting it both on its “unjust, unreasonable” basis and the “improper” way it was sent.

“There is no fair and just reason for the GRP to terminate the peace negotiations less than two weeks after the two Negotiating Panels had successfully concluded their third round of talks in Rome,” he said. Citing the significant advances in the substantive agenda on social and economic reforms and on political and constitutional reforms, contained in the panels’ January 25 joint statement, Agcaoili said these could lead to the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) within 2017. He also cited the thorough discussions on the implementation of the CARHRIHL and the scheduled meeting of ceasefire committees to discuss a GRP proposed bilateral ceasefire on Feb. 22-27.

“With the progress in the talks, it is unreasonable for any party to unilaterally terminate the peace negotiations without just cause and squander the gains so far achieved,” he emphasized.

Agcaoili also noted that the notice of termination of the JASIG was improperly addressed. It should have been sent to the National Executive Committee of the NDFP through the negotiating panel because, he pointed out, the NDFP negotiating panel and its consultants draw their authority from that body. The original of the letter, he added, should be sent to the NDFP Information Office in the Netherlands to be formally received by the negotiating panel.

“The NDFP cannot be a party to an unjust, unreasonable and improper termination of the JASIG. The GRP bears full responsibility for its unilateral decision,” Agcaoili concluded.

Given this standoff between the two parties, calls are building up for President Duterte to walk back on his blustering (as he has done in previous instances) and not to scuttle the peace talks, which during the presidential campaign he promised to pursue and complete.

At the House of Representatives, House Resolution 769 was filed Thursday, urging the President to continue the peace negotiations “considering the unprecedented and significant advances made on the substantive agenda for the benefit of the Filipino people.” Initiated by the Makabayan bloc, the resolution has been signed by 103 House members, including three deputy speakers.

Two large formations of peace advocates, in their mass actions this week, reiterated their call for Duterte to reconsider his abrupt shift in stance, as they urged the people to manifest support for the peace negotiations.

The Citizens Alliance for Just Peace (composed of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, Pilgrims for Peace, Sulong CARHRIHL, and Waging Peace Philippines) said: “We rise above doomsday declarations to urge President Rodrigo Duterte to keep his eyes on the horizon of hope and work for the Filipino people’s peace and prosperity.”

Describing itself as “greatly alarmed at the sudden turn of events,” the Kapayapaan Campaign for Just and Lasting Peace warned: “We are concerned that the armed conflict will escalate. The President’s abrupt and unilateral actions put to waste the positive and substantive gains of the peace negotiations.”

How is President Duterte responding to the public clamor? In the last few days he has ceased to make any further vituperative statements. However, he needs to review his overall stand on the peace negotiations, particularly what basically triggered his turnabout.

Underlying the turnabout appears to be his fixation on forging an indefinite or “permanent” ceasefire ahead of completing negotiations on and signing two vital comprehensive agreements: on social and economic reforms, and on political and constitutional reforms.

Completing these agreements and beginning to carry them out in all sincerity – to the benefit of our people particularly the poor – ought to be his central concern. Not a permanent ceasefire at this point.

As indicated in the peace talks’ four-point agenda, a permanent ceasefire will naturally follow the forging of a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (the last accord). As shown by the current imbroglio, getting fixated on ceasefire disrupts and can even totally negate the progress painstakingly gained so far.

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Published in The Philippine Star
Feb. 11, 2017

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