By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
QUEZON CITY – Resuming peace talks and pushing for genuine agrarian reform.
These are the calls of farmers and other groups that gathered at the University of the Philippines Institute for Small-Scale Industries (UP ISSI) on January 22 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre.
Titled “Land Reform is Peace,” the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) organized the forum on these issues.
The Mendiola Massacre led to the collapse of peace negotiations during the administration of Cory Aquino. Hundreds of people got injured while 13 farmers were killed. No one has been held accountable for what happened and the victims’ families have not yet received any compensation.
“Our commitment to lasting peace never ended. For the martyrs of Mendiola, we continue to assert peace talks [in different administrations] together with the KMP, and we acknowledge the recent breakthroughs in the Oslo Joint Statement, a sign for the resumption of peace talks,” Bayan Chair Emeritus Carol Araullo said.
In November 2023, the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced the possible resumption of formal peace negotiations after a series of informal discussions in The Netherlands and Norway.
Farmers, movers of peace
Araullo said that the participation of the peasant sector is instrumental in drafting the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).
It is a framework that contains recommendations to solve the problems of poverty, joblessness, and landlessness, as well as the lack of social justice.
Juliet De Lima, interim chair of the NDFP Negotiating Panel, said that agrarian reform and rural development are critical components of CASER.
She said that the document has seven major parts discussing the principles, scope or applicability, development of the national economy, respect for human rights, macroeconomic policies, and the overall mechanism of its implementation.
“We are nearing the first quarter of the century, and we are still facing the important task of establishing an economy that serves the interest of the Filipino people,” De Lima said in a video statement.
On October 10, 2016, the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) met for the second round of formal peace negotiations to agree on the framework of the CASER. This was a year before former President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally terminated the peace talks through Proclamation No. 360.
Hernani Braganza, a government peace negotiator from past administrations, said that CASER is in pursuit of a balanced economic development.
“The formula here is to pursue rural development together with urban development, so we can maintain the balance in the economy,” Braganza said.
He stressed that before the termination of formal peace talks, there were informal talks on agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD). One of its most important parts is the need for free land distribution.
“If the government really wants peace, there will be peace talks. If the government steps back, it will be hard to continue peace talks,” he added.
Pushing back to the negotiating table
In a letter, detained NDFP peace consultants Rey Casambre, Renante Gamara, Vicente Ladlad and Adelberto Silva said that the possibility of peace talks resumption is an acknowledgment that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) remain relevant forces to advance the interest of the people.
“If peace talks continue, Marcos Jr. should recognize the formal and informal negotiations in the past administration such as the signing of Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG),” the letter reads.
CARHIHL was signed in 1998. This sets the line on who and what are legitimate military targets and objects in the armed conflict, based on International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The core of this agreement is to protect civilians or non-combatants.
Meanwhile, JASIG protects consultants and negotiators involved in the peace talks, subjecting them to free and unhindered passage across the Philippines. They are supposed to be free from surveillance, harassment, search arrest, detention, interrogation, or any other similar punitive actions.
Meanwhile, NDFP peace consultants have been subjected to arrests, harassment, killings and enforced disappearances. Among the slain peace consultants are Randy Malayao (2019), Julius Garon (2020), Randall Echanis (2020), Eugenia Magpantay (2020), Aggaton Tapacio (2020), Rustico Tan (2021), Ericson Acosta (2022), Benito Tiamzon (2022) and Wilma Tiamzon (2022).
“We have seen that amid the worsening political and socio-economic crisis, when the toiling masses assert their interests, the GRP has no choice but to go back to the negotiating table,” the detained consultants said.
Solidarity from sectors
Jerome Adonis of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said that the workers honor the martyrs of Mendiola and the pursuit of farmers for peace and genuine land reform.
“These are important in addressing the fundamental problems of our country for hundreds of years,” Adonis said.
He added that the pursuit of peace talks means fighting for livable wages, ending contractualization, respect for union organizing, and the overall fight for national industrialization.
“Our demands for the government have always been just and reasonable,” Adonis said.
The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), Sandugo – Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination and Bai Indigenous Women’s Network also showed solidarity in the peace forum.
“Our fight for self-determination will not succeed without land. Like farmers, we have also joined the drafting of CASER and initiated ripples of localized peace talks in Abra and Cordillera, among others,” Kakai Tolentino said, representing the indigenous peoples sector. (RTS, DAA)