Looking back: The Hague Joint Declaration 25 years ago

The current administration…has not only inherited an accumulation of problems [social, economic, and political] but has adopted and implemented policies that aggravate these problems. It is widely perceived that the Philippine ruling system is inexorably following a course of degeneration and disintegration.”

“There is growing militarization of the political system. The total war policy continues unleashing torrents of violence against the people in such intolerably painful way as massacres, assassinations, torture, mass arrests, blind aerial bombings and strafing, destruction of property and livelihood, and forced evacuations…”

Do the above quotes depict the conditions under the Duterte administration? The answer can easily be Yes. However, the statements were made in 1992 – 25 years ago, during the early months of the Fidel V. Ramos government.

That was how Luis Jalandoni, representing the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, described the Philippine situation in his opening statement on August 31, 1992, at the start of exploratory talks in the Netherlands. Facing him was then Tarlac Rep. Jose V. Yap, whom President Ramos had sent as peace emissary to the NDFP. The next day, September 1, the exploratory talks culminated in the signing of the landmark Joint Declaration of The Hague, which set the framework and substantive agenda of the subsequent GRP-NDFP peace talks.

Crafted in concise paragraphs, the Joint Declaration set this four-point framework: 1) formal peace negotiations shall be held to resolve the armed conflict; 2) the common goal shall be to attain a just and lasting peace; 3) negotiations shall take place after the parties have reached tentative agreements on substantive issues in the agreed agenda through the reciprocal working committees to be separately organized by the GRP and the NDFP; and 4) negotiations are to be conducted in accordance with mutually acceptable principles, including national sovereignty, democracy and social justice; and, “no precondition shall be made to negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.”

The Joint Declaration also set a four-point substantive agenda for the formal negotiations: human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Worth noting is that, under essentially similar conditions portrayed in the above quotes, Fidel Ramos and Rodrigo Duterte acted differently with regard to the GRP-NDFP peace talks (begun under the Cory Aquino administration in mid-1986 but aborted in January 1987).

Even though, as Cory’s AFP chief and later as defense secretary, Ramos had strongly opposed the peace talks in 1986-87, he pursued these upon assuming the presidency. In contrast, Duterte, in a fit of personal pique last July (“You want to ambush me!”), scuttled the peace negotiations he had formally resumed in August 2016 to fulfill a promise made during the presidential campaign.

Under Ramos’ watch, through on-and-off negotiations from 1994 onward, the two panels completed and signed nine other agreements. These include the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the landmark Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). There was no bilateral ceasefire accord.

On his part, Duterte disrupted the formal negotiations just as these were making substantial gains. He insisted on a prolonged bilateral ceasefire agreement ahead of negotiating and signing a comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms, the most vital element of the peace talks.

The historical significance of the signing of The Hague Joint Declaration – and its continuing validity as framework for the continuing negotiations – lies in the fact that it was hammered out by two fiercely contending parties with diametrically opposed starting points.

The Ramos government brought to the exploratory talks three “basic principles” that it wanted the NDFP to accept. These were: 1) recognize the supremacy of the GRP Constitution as fundamental law of the land and basis for national peace and progress; 2) renounce the use of force and violence to achieve political ends; and 3) recognize only one authorized armed forces for the country, and the illegality and necessity to disband all other organized armed groups.

Rep. Yap said in his opening statement:

“I am aware that the NDFP has adhered to principles contrary to these basic principles of the GRP, having unequivocally expressed an opposing stand on these matters on various occasions. But our diametrically opposing views should not deter us and cause the outright abandonment of the peace option. Let no one say in the future that we did not give the best shot simply because the differences at the outset seemed to be so overwhelming.”

On the other hand, the NDFP stood fast for mutually acceptable principles of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights, and social justice. The NDFP and GRP constitutions, it said, can be used as frames of reference. It proposed the four-point agenda adopted in the Joint Declaration.

Jalandoni’s marching orders from the NDFP National Executive Committee, issued through Chairman Manuel Romero, included the following: 1) reaffirm and uphold the NDFP’s peace framework, which envisions a negotiated political settlement of the armed conflict by resolving the socio-economic and political problems at the root of the conflict; 2) raise the release of 600 political prisoners as one of the goodwill measures; 3) press for ending the GRP policies on total war, foreign debt, US access to Philippine military facilities and control over the AFP, foreign exchange and trade liberalization, intelligence network in the bureaucracy.

Listening to each other, speaking with candor, imputing no malice to each other’s proposals, the two sides came to a consensus in two days of exploratory talks and signed the Hague Joint Declaration 25 years ago yesterday.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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