President Duterte is gaming the GRP-NDFP peace talks

Today up to Nov. 27, the fifth round of formal negotiations in the GRP-NDFP peace talks had been scheduled to take place in Oslo, Norway.

The two sides had been all set to tackle a three-point agenda hammered out in a series of discreet back-channel discussions in September and October. And by December, agreements on each of the agenda items would have capped what both sides had declared as “unprecedented advances” in the peace negotiations under the Duterte government.

But only last Nov. 22, presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza announced the cancellation of “all planned meetings with the CPP/NPA/NDFP, in line with President Duterte’s directive that there will be no more peace talks with them.” The following day, the presidential spokesperson announced that the President had signed, on that day, Proclamation 360 officially declaring the termination of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Note what Dureza said in his official statement: “This is an unfortunate development in our work for peace. Never before have we all reached this far in our negotiations with (the CPP/NPA/NDFP).” The peace adviser simply reiterated what he had said in February, when Duterte first abruptly cancelled the peace talks. He said then:

“We now stand at a time when we, thus far, face the toughest hurdle in our peace and development roadmap. Over the weekend, President Duterte declared the cancellation of our peace talks with the NDFP, as well as with two organizations within its broad network – the CPP and the NPA. Given that we ended the third round of talks in Rome, Italy, only two weeks ago on a high note, the turn of events unfolded before us may be described as unfortunate to the building of good relations we have with the CPP/NPA/NDFP.”

Dureza has not cited any specifics regarding the significant and palpable advances attained in the talks. However, the NDFP negotiators have provided some interesting details.

Julieta de Lima, NDFP panel member and chairperson of the panel’s reciprocal working committee on social and economic reforms (RWC-SER), said in a Nov. 23 statement:

“(We) view with grave concern President Duterte’s sudden turn-about and unilateral cancellation anew of peace negotiations with the NDFP. It’s the third time in six months that Duterte has obstructed the progress of the talks. His latest scuttling of the talks comes at a time when unprecedented advances have already been achieved in forging agreements on urgently needed social and economic reforms to alleviate mass poverty and resolve the roots of the armed conflict.”

Just four days before Duterte’s cancellation directive, de Lima disclosed, bilateral teams of the RWCs-SER “initialled draft documents reflecting substantive agreements on agrarian reform and rural development, and on national industrialization and economic development.” These were the results of a series of technical meetings on Oct. 26-27, Nov. 9-11, and Nov. 16-17.

What were some of the specific agreements arrived at? De Lima cited the following:

– There will be free distribution of land to tillers, landless farmers and farmworkers, agricultural workers, and fisherfolk. Agrarian reform beneficiaries who haven’t been able to occupy the land awarded to them will be installed immediately, including those in contested lands and agricultural estates. The scope of agrarian reform will include plantations and large scale commercial farms covered by leasehold, joint ventures, non-land transfer scheme such as stock-distribution option (as applied in Hacienda Luisita) and other such arrangements.

– There is an urgent need for national industrialization and planning to develop Filipino industrial capacity. Measures will be taken to ensure that foreign investments cease being one-sided (favorable to foreigners) and contribute to developing the national economy. Protection and support will be given to domestic industries and smaller enterprises. It is important to nationalize public utilities. And, industrialization will be jumpstarted by identifying key industries and priority industrial projects.

– Measures will be instituted to prohibit and eliminate exploitative lending and trading practices. There will be mutual acknowledgment of the important role of trade unions and workers’ councils.

With further measures of “even greater significance” having been set to be tackled, de Lima said the two panels’ RWCs-SER were optimistic that they would be able to complete the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) for signing by their respective negotiating panels, and approval by their principals, by January 2018.

Besides the high expectations on the completion of the CASER, Luis Jalandoni, former head and now senior adviser of the NDFP negotiating panel, disclosed the two other major matters set for discussion at the fifth round in Oslo – the release of over 400 political prisoners and issuance of a general amnesty proclamation, and the details of “coordinated unilateral ceasefires” with a separate declaration by each side.

By including these two topics in the agenda, the two panels showed a determination to finally resolve the issue of political prisoners’ release via general amnesty, in accordance with previously signed agreements. The issue was first discussed in May between then president-elect Duterte and NDFP emissary Fidel Agcaoili. It was repeatedly raised for resolution in each of the four rounds of negotiations. On the other hand, discussions on coordinated unilateral ceasefire declarations were aimed at provisionally meeting President Duterte’s demand for a long-term bilateral ceasefire agreement (which, under The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, should be part of the last item of the overall agenda: the end of hostilities and disposition of forces).

With such a positive outlook from both sides, why did Duterte decide to cancel the peace talks? And why has he chosen to follow the United States government line by threatening to declare the CPP-NPA as a “terrorist” organization, and to arrest members of the broad range of legal progressive organizations for alleged “conspiracy” with the CPP-NPA?

Apparently, Duterte is gaming the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

For instance, even as his government’s negotiators were forging consensus on socio-economic reforms aimed at reducing or ending foreign control or domination of the Philippine economy, he was taking a contradictory step: On Nov. 21, he directed his economic managers to ease foreign investments limits in several areas, including public utilities.

Where does he really want to go?

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Published in Philippine Star
Nov. 25, 2017

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