By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The guns could have been silenced for a week starting June 21, and even longer, had President Duterte not ordered the cancellation of the fifth round of peace talks, and eventually suspended all backchannel negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
In a gathering in Quezon City yesterday, June 21, peace advocates urgently called on President Duterte to return to the negotiating table with the NDFP, even as they were “disheartened” at the cancellation of the June 28 fifth round of formal talks. A stand-down agreement signed by both parties in backchannel talks, was supposed to have been in effect starting yesterday.
Led by Pilgrims for Peace, the groups criticized President Duterte for “strong-arming” the peace negotiations, as the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel, following Duterte’s orders, backed out of the formal talks on June 14, and all backchannel negotiations as of yesterday.
“The Filipino people want peace: both the peace that is the absence of armed conflict and, more importantly, peace that can be aided through agreements like the anticipated Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER),” said Bishop Joel Porlares, convenor of Pilgrims for Peace, in a statement.
“Mr. President, negotiate! Please, don’t dictate,” said the group. Activists also carried signs thanking the Royal Norwegian government for acting as third-party facilitator to the GRP-NDFP talks.
The GRP said they want the talks suspended for three months as they review the peace process and agreements already signed. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque quoted the President as saying that the talks should be held here in the country, instead of a foreign, neutral venue, as provided in the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Roque also said that maybe a third-party facilitator will no longer be needed.
“Is resistance on the side of the Duterte government to these basic reforms the real reason behind postponing the resumption of the formal talks?” said the Pilgrims for Peace.
Sectoral groups have been clamoring for the signing of CASER, to bring about reforms which they said will address the core issues of the armed conflict, such as landlessness, poverty, hunger. Along with CASER should be the upholding of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first of the substantive agenda of the GRP-NDFP talks which was signed in 1998.
The fifth round of talks would have led to the signing of the Interim Peace Agreement, which includes: an amnesty proclamation for all political prisoners; sections of the CASER on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and national Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED); and a three-month-long Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefire (CUC).
The amnesty proclamation, upon affirmation by Congress, will hasten the release of all activists who have been in prolonged, unjust detention.
“Strong-arming a negotiation process by disallowing for a neutral venue and facilitation makes sincere negotiations difficult, if not outright impossible,” Porlales said.
The group also lamented Duterte’s insistence to bring NDFP chief political adviser Prof. Jose Maria Sison back to the Philippines. The long-time revolutionary leader has been in self-exile in Utrecht, The Netherlands since 1986.