In the last six years since former President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, their peace consultants, including those who publicly participated in the peace process, were subjected to a series of bloody and vicious attacks.
By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – The Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have announced today that the two parties will be returning to the negotiating table as part of their continuing efforts to address the roots of the armed conflict.
Last Nov. 23, the two parties signed a joint communique, stipulating that they are agreeing to a “principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict.” This is exactly six years since the Duterte administration issued Proclamation No. 360, which terminated the talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP.
In her speech, NDFP Interim Chairperson Julieta de Lima said that as they reconstitute and appoint new members of the panel, they would need to discuss the participation of detained consultants in the peace process, the assurance of the safety of those participating in the talks, the release of political prisoners, and the abrogation of the terrorist designation of the NDFP, their panel, and consultants who have been working on attaining peace.
Such concerns come as no surprise as bloody and vicious attacks have been launched against peace consultants, including those who publicly participated in the peace process under former President Rodrigo Duterte, following the 2017 unilateral termination of the peace talks. The termination aborted what appeared to have been an unprecedented pace in the discussions on agrarian reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development, and political and constitutional reforms.
The Duterte administration then declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, and later the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and their peace consultants as terrorists.
He also created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through his Executive Order No. 70.
These have led to relentless attacks against members of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and their consultants despite being supposedly protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
“We call on all stakeholders and their constituencies to support and push the Parties in pursuing the peace negotiations to address the persistence of mass poverty, social inequality, and economic underdevelopment that has fueled the armed conflict for decades and find ways to address the roots of the armed conflict, and thus achieve a just and lasting peace for our people,” De Lima said.
In 2019, Randy Felix Malayao was shot dead while asleep inside a bus in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya. He was the first peace consultant killed under the Duterte administration.
A year later, in 2020, four more peace consultants were killed in separate incidents. Julius Giron, 70, was killed along with his companions in Baguio City, while Randall Echanis was stabbed to death in his rented apartment in Quezon City. Then, on Nov. 25, 2020, spouses Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio, both peace consultants, were gunned down in a raid by police forces in Angono, Rizal.
The following year, in 2021, peace consultants Rustico Tan, 80, and Reynaldo Bocala, a known Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) leader in Panay Island, were killed in Cebu and Iloilo, respectively.
Meanwhile, it was also in 2020 that spouses Wilma Austria, peace consultant and head of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Group on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces, and Benito Tiamzon, a member of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and head of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Group on Political and Constitutional Reforms, were convicted of kidnapping and serious illegal detention by a Quezon City court.
Their names would later appear in the headlines when the CPP confirmed their deaths earlier this year. The group said the two, along with eight other guerilla forces, were captured alive in 2022, subjected to heavy torture, and were then put in a motorboat and later detonated in the waters of Catbalogan City.
Austria was the secretary general of the CPP while Tiamzon headed its Executive Committee.
There were also cases of enforced disappearances among the ranks of NDFP peace consultants.
In 2018, Lora Manipis, NDFP consultant, and husband Jeruel Domingo, an NPA commander in Saranggani and South Cotabato, were disappeared while conducting dialogues with peasant and indigenous people allegedly affected by the Xstrata Mining operations in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Other peace consultants who were disappeared included Ezequiel Daguman, along with a companion in Davao del Norte on March 7, 2022, and Edwin Alcid and his two companions who were reportedly disappeared by soldiers in Catubig, Northern Samar a day later.
Arrests, continuing detention
Since the collapse of the peace talks, peace consultants have been arrested on trumped-up charges.
These include: Ariel Arbitario, Ferdinand Castillo, Rommel Salinas, Rafael Baylosis, Lora Manipis, Adelberto Silva, Vincente Ladlad, Rey Claro Casambre, Renante Gamara, Frank Fernandez, Esterelita Suaybaguio, Alfredo Mapano, Loida Magpatoc, Esteban Manuel Jr., Ernesto Lorenzo and Fe Serrano.
Meanwhile, other peace consultants such as Leopoldo Caloza and Eduardo Sarmiento were convicted of trumped-up criminal charges and are serving their sentences at the National Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa.
Of those arrested, only Baylosis has been released in 2019.
De Lima said that the NDFP cannot overemphasize the importance of peace consultants in the negotiating table. “Hence, we will continue to work for their release to enable them to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the peace negotiations.”
Apart from violating the safety and immunity guarantees, human rights groups pointed out that the arrest and filing of trumped-up charges against peace consultants are also against the Hernandez doctrine, which prohibits the criminalization of political offenses.
“The safety and immunity guarantees of those participating in the peace negotiations will help facilitate the negotiations, create a favorable atmosphere and obviate any incident that may jeopardize the peace negotiations,” De Lima added.
Meanwhile, in his opening statement, the former head of the NDFP Negotiating Panel and now a member of the NDFP National Executive Council Luis Jalandoni said they will build on past achievements as well as lessons alike, and that they are “always open and willing to talk to the GRP if this will be for the interest and benefit of the Filipino people.”
Jalandoni said, “the road to a just and lasting peace is long and even tortuous. The journey will be challenging. The final destination will not be easy to reach. But we have to traverse that path because the people want and deserve it.” (RVO)