Consultants of the NDFP in the peace talks with the government are being arrested one after the other, and are being charged with murder and illegal possession of firearms. Who are they and what is their role in the peace negotiations?
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in its peace negotiations with the Philippine government are often maligned in public, portrayed as war freaks and armed to the teeth rambos to justify the systematic human rights attacks against them.
But who are these peace consultants? And why have they become regular targets of human rights attacks, including surveillance, arrests, trumped-up charges, enforced disappearances, and even extrajudicial killing?
Their role in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP is once again highlighted following the unjust arrests of publicly-known consultants Rafael Baylosis, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and four days ago Rey Claro Casambre.
In an interview with Bulatlat, NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Fidel Agcaoili said “publicly known consultants are chosen for their expertise in their fields of endeavor, integrity and progressive views.”
Their tasks as peace consultants are oftentimes seen during formal peace negotiations but Agcaoili pointed out that they are crucial in the struggle for a just and lasting peace both inside and outside the negotiating table as they are “chosen for their ability and capacity to represent the views of the NDFP on the peace talks and national issues, as well as their keen knowledge of the situation in their respective areas in assisting the peace panel to disseminate to the people the developments in the peace negotiations.”
Aiding the negotiating panel
Similar to how the Philippine government is assisted by people in departments and agencies under the executive branch, the NDFP peace consultants “advise and aid the Panel in their respective fields of expertise, experience, or areas of operations as the case may be,” Agcaoili said.
He added that peace consultants are “important to ensure the crafting of good agreements on reforms in the socio-economic and political fields, as well as the end of hostilities and disposition of forces, and the implementation of all agreements.”
As such, their expertise, experience, and awareness of the people’s welfare and demands ensure that negotiations and the crafting of agreements should always take into full account the interest and benefit of the oppressed and exploited sections of Philippine society.
Attacks against consultants
In their work as consultants to the NDFP Negotiating Panel, they are supposedly immune from arrests, surveillance, among others, as enshrined in a historic document signed by both parties dubbed as the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
Still, many have fallen victims to gross human rights violations, including the enforced disappearances of consultants under former president now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo namely Cesar Batralo, Leo Velasco, Rogelio Calubad who was disappeared with son Gabriel, Philip Limjoco, Leopoldo Ancheta, spouses Federico and Nelly Intise, and Prudencio Calubid who was disappeared with his wife, Celina Palma, niece Gloria Soco and NDFP staff Ariel Beloy.
Still under Arroyo, NDFP peace consultant Sotero “Ka Teroy” Llamas was killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen. In a 2006 statement, then NDFP Negotiating Panel chairperson Luis Jalandoni described the cold-blooded murder as “cowardly” that deserved the strongest condemnation of all Filipinos.”
During Benigno S. Aquino III’s term, NDFP consultants were also arrested, including spouses Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, and Adelberto Silva.
As then president-elect, Duterte promised to release political prisoners. However, when he formally assumed office as the country’s top leader, such promise eventually led to a measly release upon posting bail of 19 political prisoners to participate in the formal peace negotiations.
And then Duterte has been quick to order their re-arrest everytime a stumbling block arises in the peace process.
Four more NDFP peace consultants have been arrested in this year alone, with the Casambre spouses being the latest. In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines said their arrest is “part of Duterte’s worsening fascist clampdown and de facto martial law rule to suppress the democratic groups and all opposition forces in a vain attempt to silence the Filipino people and make them submit to his tyrannical rule. More attacks against the legal democratic mass movement are imminent.”