In April, President Duterte called for resuming the GRP-NDFP peace talks he had arbitrarily “terminated” in November. Saying it’s the “last chance” for achieving peace with the Left revolutionary movement, he gave the two sides 60 days to undertake informal/backchannel discussions to pave the ground for the fifth round of formal negotiations, which he had twice cancelled as these were about to start.
Yet after the two sides had agreed to resume the formal negotiations this coming June 28-30 and begin a “stand-down (stay where you are)” ceasefire on June 21 as a mutual goodwill measure, Duterte ordered the negotiations postponed indefinitely. Why?
Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, in a press briefing at Malacanang on Thursday, explained: “To achieve a conducive environment for peace, President Duterte instructed us to engage our bigger table, the general public, as well as other sectors in government. Consequently, the initial timeline that our backchannel team had worked on with their counterpart CPP-NDFP across the table has to be necessarily adjusted.”
Furthermore, he said: “For our peace talks to succeed, it should have good support from the general public. Hence, it is necessary that all efforts be exerted to inform and engage them in the same way the government engages the rebels [to] address the root causes of the conflict.”
Dureza’s statements instantly raises the question: “In what manner, and for how long, will the government engage the general public – ‘in the same way [it] engages the rebels’ – in addressing the root causes of the armed conflict which has run for almost 50 years?” “Addressing the root causes of the armed conflict” has been the operative guideline for the GRP-NDFP peace talks since 1986-87.
Another question: “Why is it only now that the Duterte government wants to ‘inform and engage’ the public in the peace talks?
It needs pointing out that, in the course of the negotiations particularly on the second agenda of social and economic reforms, both the NDFP and the GRP had conducted public consultations, eliciting inputs from the people on the key issues, such as agrarian reform and rural development and national industrialization and economic development. There were many instances where speakers from both sides had been invited in public forums to present their respective proposals, but the GRP often failed to send a representative.
Earlier, Duterte announced the fifth round of formal negotiations would start in July. But now he has asked for “more time” to study the matter, after receiving the report of his negotiators on the results of the informal/backchannel discussions on June 5-10.
Jose Ma. Sison, NDFP panel chief political consultant, couldn’t hold back his “disappointment and frustration” over what he called Duterte’s “unilateral cancellation” of both the start of the stand-down ceasefire and the formal negotiations. “The written agreements pertaining to the aforesaid scheduled events,” he said, have been signed by the respective chairpersons of the GRP and the NDFP negotiating panels and witnessed by the Royal Norwegian Government [RNG] special envoy, Ambassador Idun Tvedt on June 9.” Sison urged the two panels to release the signed agreements to the public and the press.
“It is starkly clear that the GRP under Duterte is not interested in serious peace negotiations with the NDFP,” Sison said. It is interested, he added, “vainly in obtaining the NDFP capitulation under the guise of an indefinite ceasefire agreement.” Referring to Duterte’s repeatedly intimating he wanted the peace talks held in the Philippines, he said the GRP would violate the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) – which requires formal negotiations in a foreign and neutral venue – [thus] “putting the negotiations under the control and under duress of the emerging fascist dictatorship and its armed minions.”
“Because the GRP under Duterte is obviously not interested in serious peace negotiations,” Sison declared, “the revolutionary forces and the people have no choice but to singlemindedly wage people’s war to achieve the national and social liberation of the Filipino people.”
While calling the postponement a “setback” in the progress of the peace talks, Fidel V. Agcaoili, head of the NDFP peace panel, said the GRP panel had apprised him of Duterte’s decision ahead of Dureza’s announcement. Moreover, he added, the GRP will send a negotiating team this weekend to the Netherlands to explain the basis of the postponement and discuss the “adjustments” to the schedule to the NDFP panel, with the presence of the Norwegian third-party facilitator.
Looking back at how the peace negotiations under the Duterte regime proceeded apace in the first three rounds of formal negotiations – from August 2016 to January 2017 – one will note that the disruptions, initiated by the GRP, began after the two panels’ reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms (RWC-SER) arrived at a positive convergence point on agrarian reform.
In the third round of formal negotiations (January 2017), the RWC-SERs agreed in principle on the distribution of lands to farmer and farm-worker beneficiaries, free of charge. Then in the fourth round (April 2017), they “firmed up their agreement on distribution of land for free as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.” In bilateral meetings, the RWC-SERs further came closer and closer to consensus on other aspects of agrarian reform and rural development, as well as on certain aspects of national industrialization and economic development.
Julieta de Lima, NDFP panel member and chair of its RWC-SER, decried the scuttling of the peace talks in November. It came at a time, she said, “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.”
The GRP panel shared the same sentiment. When Duterte first cancelled the peace talks in February 2017, Dureza (who sat in all the formal negotiations) issued a statement calling the cancellation as “unfortunate to the building of good relations we have with the CPP/NPA/NDFP.” Then in November when Duterte issued Proclamation 360 “terminating” the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, Dureza again issued an official statement saying: “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.”
Now we can ask: If the peace negotiations were moving ahead with that highly positive note, as acknowledged by both sides, why should the Duterte government now claim they cannot be resumed without “going to the people first”?
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Published in Philippine Star
June 16, 2018