By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
MANILA — On his 78th birthday, family, colleagues, and human rights defenders remembered the contributions of the late peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili in a gathering held at the University Hotel, University of the Philippines Diliman on August 8.
Agcaoili, chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel, died of pulmonary arterial rupture in The Netherlands on July 23, 2020.
The program titled “A Lifetime of Struggle for Freedom, Democracy, and Peace” showed Agcaoili as a patriot, migrant, human rights defender, and internationalist. It also recognized his contributions to the quest for just and lasting peace.
“It is important to remember his life and resistance today, especially in the era of systematic defamation against the revolutionary movement. If he were alive today, he would become a victim of the terrorist-tagging spree of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC),” Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), said in reference to the government’s counterinsurgency arm.
A monument in people’s hearts
Human rights lawyer Josa Deinla of the National Union of People’s Lawyers recalled her experiences and memories shared with Agcaoili.
Deinla was formerly part of the NDFP-Nominated Section of the Joint Secretariat of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
“Ka Fidel tirelessly studied the situation of the civilians during the armed conflict, especially in the far-flung areas, and demanded the government’s responsibility and commitment to upholding their rights. A mentorship with him is a rewarding experience that any courses in the university can never outweigh,” said Deinla, adding that the late negotiator held her “to the highest standards of professionalism and competence.”
In light of the NTF-ELCAC’s terror tagging spree and later the terrorist designation of the NDFP, Deinla said that Agcaoili could have been branded as a “terrorist.”
“We all know he was a gentle soul, a caring colleague, and a revolutionary, but never a terrorist,” she said. “If he were alive today, he would defy these unlawful assaults with a raised fist. And the first thing that he would do is to refuse to cower in fear.”
Meanwhile, journalist Raymund Villanueva said that among those he chronicled in his book “Waylaid Peace” was Agcaoili’s contributions to the peace process.
Crucial role in achieving peace milestones
Former peace negotiator and long-time activist Satur Ocampo said he was a witness to Agcaoili’s resolve from his days as a political detainee and eventually as part of the NDFP’s peace panel. Both were incarcerated for more than a decade during the Marcos Sr. dictatorship.
“During the formal negotiations under Ramos administration, Fidel documented the whole process and violations every step of the way,” Ocampo said, adding that the detailed documentation and series of consultations spearheaded by Agcaoili can serve as basis to resume the negotiations of any administration of the Philippine government.
Agcaoili helped finalize major agreements between the Philippine government and the NDFP, including The Hague Declaration of 1992 and CARHRIHL where he later sat as co-chair in the Joint Monitoring Committee of the two parties.
His contribution to the peace process was also hailed as “instrumental” by Elisabeth Slåttum, the former Norwegian Special Envoy to the Philippine peace process. “He was a tough negotiator. But, he always negotiated with dignity, respect, and passion. He was passionate about the cause, his wife, family, and kids. I hope the peace process and the peace talks can resume soon. The Filipino people deserve peace.”
Norway has been a third-party facilitator to the peace process between the Philippine government and the NDFP since 2001.
Former labor secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was also chair of the Philippine government’s peace panel during former President Duterte, said that Agcaoili played a vital role in the peace talks. This, he said, led to the drafting of key documents, including an interim peace agreement.
“Despite his departure, his memories and advocacies remain very much alive today, and it continues to grow relevant as we assert the resumption of peace talks. Many people, especially in the far-flung areas, are crying for peace,” Bello said. (JJE, RVO)