Peace Talks Derailed; Military Beefs Up Gov’t Panel

Not yet two months old, the resumed peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has hit its first rough spot. Following the execution by the New People’s Army (NPA) of notorious human rights violator and defeated reelectionist congressman, Rodolfo Aguinaldo, the GRP panel walked out of the Oslo peace talks only to clarify it later as a “recess.” After the Arroyo government’s unilateral move, the question now is can it meet its own self-imposed deadline of reaching an agreement with the NDFP in 18 months?


Less than two months after reopening on April 27, the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has hit a snag. The most recent round of talks in Oslo, Norway adjourned two days earlier than scheduled with the “indefinite recess” unilaterally declared by the GRP last June 13.

Until this turn of events, both sides had tried to project optimism and had highlighted the gains achieved thus far: a restarted peace process; impending implementation of the agreement on human rights and international humanitarian law; the start of talks on crucial social and economic reforms (SER); and mutual eagerness to resolve the roots of the three decades-long armed conflict.

There had also been frequent mention of goodwill and confidence-building measures although these remained as demands and so far not acted upon.

However, it is clear from the way things have developing in the past week that unresolved issues have always been on the verge of bursting to the surface, kept at bay mainly by restraint on both sides.

The June 12 killing of notorious human rights violator and Cagayan Rep. Rodolfo Aguinaldo by the New People’s Army (NPA) appeared to be just too much for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to take. Stung by the apparent assertion by the NDFP of its own justice system, she recalled the GRP negotiating panel. On its part the NDFP has maintained that the incident is within the normal course of “revolutionary justice” in its areas of influence.

Upon his return from Oslo, chief GRP negotiator Silvestre Bello III defended his panel’s decision. “We could no longer continue in this round of talks after a political killing was carried out by the army of our counterpart and congratulated by them during the very days we were holding such talks,” he said. (Other reports said the GRP panel came under intense military pressure to stop the talks, using as their pretext the punishment of Aguinaldo by the NPA guerillas.)

‘Monumental irony’

NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni countered by calling the GRP’s call for a recess “the most monumental of ironies.” Jalandoni noted that the GRP justifies the recess with the death of a notorious torturer even as it has failed to give justice to almost 10,000 victims of human rights violations of the Marcos dictatorship and drags its foot on implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said: “If the GRP finds good cause for scuttling the Oslo talks in canonizing the butcher and torturer Aguinaldo as a martyr-saint, why should not the NDFP demand that justice be rendered first to his victims and to so many more victims of disappearances, tortures, murders, arson and forced evacuation under the various regimes of the GRP before going into peace negotiations?”

“Following the GRP's logic,” Sison said, “were the NDFP to call for a recess of one and only one day for each of these victims, there will be no more peace negotiations until the Macapagal-Arroyo rule is long over. “

Jalandoni also pointed out how the GRP “has shown for the last three decades its complete inability to deal with human rights violators, whether to punish or stop them.” He also noted how the Hague Joint Declaration “specifically prohibits preconditions which compel one party to accept the other’s legal and constitutional system.”

Meanwhile, the Norwegian foreign minister, host of the Oslo talks, reportedly berated the NDFP panel saying that “murder” has no place in the peace talks. But he reportedly apologized for his strong remarks to Jalandoni through his channels.

But the GRP stood its ground and fell just short of issuing veiled threats. While denying that they were terminating the talks, Bello said “It is a recess for our panel to consult our principal, President Arroyo, and the Filipino public on the future conduct of the negotiations.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita echoed Bello and said that Cabinet Cluster E would reassess the government position. “The peace process is important but there is a need to discuss what the appropriate position of the government should be,” he said.

August talks

Yet despite the bluster, Bello has said that a schedule for resumption of the talks by the second week of August would be “most practicable.”

If the GRP called the recess as some kind of muscle-flexing, the NDFP is apparently not daunted. It declared that it would only resume talks if the GRP acts on various recent human rights violations. Going on the offensive, Jalandoni said that “the NDFP needs concrete expressions of good faith and stronger political will from the Macapagal-Arroyo government.”

The NDFP specifically cited the torture and murder of five alleged NPA fighters in Tarlac province north of Manila, the unwarranted killing of the civilian brother of a high-ranking official of the NPA’s Melito Glor Command (Ka Bart Alcantara), the killing of a University of the Philippines student in an alleged NPA camp in Albay province, and ten election-related crimes against members and supporters of Bayan Muna.

The human rights alliance Karapatan meanwhile has documented human rights violations in the first 100 days of the Arroyo administration. Military and police forces have been implicated in 19 killings, in 10 cases of political assassinations and two massacre incidents, and in 22 cases of physical assault.

A mutual ceasefire was pushed by Bello and Ermita but was rejected by Arroyo. She said that the course the GRP will take will be dealt with in the newly-formed Cabinet oversight committee on internal security chaired by Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo.

Military and police intelligence

The recess has allowed the Arroyo government to beef up the military and police intelligence presence in the GRP panel. Appointed as advisers were Col. Carlos Holganza, Navy Commander Roy Antonio and Chief Supt. Hercules Cataluna. Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a former Armed Forces chief, was also included as adviser.

Other new advisers in the GRP panel were: Justice Secretary Hernando Perez, Reps. Jose Yap and Rolando Andaya, Presidential Assistant for Eastern Mindanao Jesus Dureza and Press Undersecretary Cerge Remonde as media coordinator.

Though militarists and hardliners within and outside government have seized the opportunity to denounce NDFP insincerity, many others have urged the resumption of the talks. Apart from militant organizations, these have included Archbishop Fernando Capalla and Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Alvarado, commander of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division in Cagayan Valley.

Before the last round of talks in Norway, the GRP and NDFP sub-committees on social and economic reforms held their first joint meeting in Antipolo, Rizal in the Philippines. Described as “fruitful,” the two days of working meetings were in preparation for the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms’ preamble, declaration of principles and sections on the national patrimony and agrarian reform.

The first three days of talks in Oslo produced an agreement on the formation of a Joint Monitoring Committee with fact-finding and recommendatory powers, a key component of the CARHRIHL

Aguinaldo’s death at the hands of the NPA is the third of government officials in recent weeks, following the sentences also meted out to Mayor Cesar Platon of Batangas and Rep. Marcial Punzalan of Quezon in the days before the May 14 elections.



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Interview with NDFP Chief Negotiator Luis Jalandoni

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