Duterte yields GRP-NDFP peace talks to the military

Back-to-back with the controversial withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC) that took effect on March 17, the following day President Duterte dismissed the government panel negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front and, the day after, even said it was a “permanent” termination.

These moves by the president raise big questions and dire scenarios.

For one, the withdrawal from the ICC hasn’t foreclosed the continuation of the ICC prosecutor’s preliminary examination of several complaints of human rights violations attributed to Duterte. The initiation of such examination was what precisely spurred the president to back out of the treaty.

Malacañang obviously worries that the preliminary examination will lead to formal investigation and court proceedings against Duterte for alleged crimes against humanity. The charges pertain to the killings carried out, during the period July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019, of thousands of Filipinos suspected or mistaken as illegal drug users or pushers. During this time frame, the Philippines was a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that set up the ICC.

Indicative of its jittery frame of mind, a spate of questionable statements has been spewing out of Malacañang. These have ranged from claiming that the ICC has lost jurisdiction over Duterte; that investigating him will violate our national sovereignty; that if the ICC prosecutor and personnel come to the country to investigate they will be barred or summarily deported; and that if the ICC carries out the investigation outside the country any Filipino citizen who participates will be barred from leaving the country, or his/her passport will be cancelled.

Human rights defenders have promptly disputed all of these statements or denounced them as totally uncalled for.

As regards his peace talks with the NDFP, Duterte announced his disbandment of the GRP peace panel first, and then seemingly as an afterthought, his decision to “permanently” terminate the process (although one cannot be too sure about anything under this administration). The serious implication is that the gains achieved in the four rounds of GRP-NDFP formal negotiations under Duterte’s watch – acknowledged as “unprecedented” by both sides in their joint statements – will no longer be pursued and formalized as binding agreements.

Malacanan photo

Of specific significance are the consensus arrived at on the free distribution of land to landless peasants under genuine agrarian reform and rural development, as well as the other aspects of social and economic reform that constitute the “meat” of the agreement that would end the armed conflict, as both sides have recognized.

Why will these vital prospective agreements be junked? Because, according to Duterte’s current peace adviser, retired AFP chief Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., what the government should do is to pursue “localized” peace negotiations instead.

What are localized peace negotiations? They focus on inducing surrender by offering a package of incentives to rebels, including cash in exchange for weapons, housing, educational support for children, and livelihood assistance. They are meant to help “those who want to leave and to have a peaceful life,” as explained by resigned presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza.

This is a stop-gap remedy that does nothing to solve the persistent rural poverty and other deeply embedded problems that lie at the root of the armed revolutionary movement. This is the reason why it is laid down in the Hague Joint Declaration (the foundational agreement signed in 1992), that peace negotiations shall be conducted at the national and not at the local level, as the latter approach is tantamount to a divide-and-rule tactic.

General Galvez however has made clear that he is advocating the military-security establishment’s “whole-of-nation approach” in order“to achieve inclusive and sustainable peace” in dealing with the NDFP.

Moreover, a signal accomplishment during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), is in danger of being set aside – unilaterally – by the Duterte government. Signed and approved by the principals of both parties in 1998, the CARHRIHL is the first and only comprehensive agreement painstakingly negotiated, signed and approved in the entire peace process, completing the first of the four-point agenda set under the Hague Joint Declaration.

Notably, the European Parliament has hailed the agreement as a unique landmark peace accord, singling out its provision for compensation to civilians whose rights are proven to have been violated by either side in the course of the 50-year armed conflict.

In the third and fourth rounds of formal negotiations under the Duterte regime (January-April 2017), the two sides completed the requisite guidelines for the implementation of the CARHRIHL and thus agreed to begin carrying out its provisions. Implementing the agreement would have gone a long way in testing the sincerity of both sides, alleviating the human rights violations even as the armed conflict continued, and building up mutual trust and confidence on and off the negotiating table.

As of the moment, Galvez pointed out, the government has “suspended recognition” of previously signed agreements (more than 10 substantive and procedural accords since 1992), pending review by the President. He specifically mentioned the CARHRIHL and the Hague Joint Declaration. As if to spite the NDFP side, arrests continue to be made of persons that Duterte’s authorities identify with it.

Peace advocates are hoping that the Duterte government will think some more about the consequences of its unilateral ”suspension of recognition” of the signed agreements. To any thoughtful observer it’s shortsighted and counterproductive.

This has come about because President Duterte has abandoned his original campaign promise to pursue and complete the GRP-NDFP negotiations, which his former chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III had kept saying would be Duterte’s best legacy to the Filipino people.

Instead he has yielded the peace question to the militarists and peace spoilers, such as Galvez who arrogantly declared on Wednesday, “For 32 years, we didn’t gain anything from the peace talks” with an adversary that has managed, still, to survive these many long years.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com.
Published in Philippine Star
March 23, 2019

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