Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 7              March 16 - 22, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Peace Forum Weighs Prospects of Peace Process

Separate peace talks between government on the one hand, and two revolutionary groups on the other have been on hold for several months, the most recent of which are government offensives against Moro guerrillas in southern Philippines. In a peace gathering March 14, representatives of government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) took turns pondering over the prospects of peace in the midst of armed conflicts launched 30 years ago.

By Ronalyn Olea 

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in January 2001, she said her government will reconstruct the peace process with forces opposed to the state.  More than two years since, nothing substantial has been achieved, participants in a recent peace gathering observed.

The peace gathering sponsored by Pilgrims for Peace, was held at the Asian Center in University of Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City on March 14.

The formal peace negotiations between government and the NDF on the one hand and the GRP and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the other have been on hold since June 2001.  Since then, government has been holding back channel talks with both revolutionary organizations.

The most recent exploratory talks between the GRP and NDF failed to arrive at common points except to reaffirm each side’s commitment to 10 agreements already forged.  The GRP chose to hold in indefinite recess the peace negotiations in the face of “many irreconcilable positions.”

Capitulation as precondition

Luis Jalandoni, chair of the NDF negotiating panel, protested “gross violations” made by the GRP on the previous agreements.

Jalandoni said that Foreign Secretary Blas Ople’s lobbying before the European countries to tag the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison as “terrorists” and the filing of murder charges against the latter are meant to pressure the NDF to capitulate.  

The GRP negotiating panel offered a Final Peace Accord (FPA) before the NDF on Feb. 19 in Utrecht, The Netherlands. 

Speaking at the “Pilgrims for Peace” forum, Eduardo Ermita, Presidential Adviser for Peace Process, said the FPA was made in consultation with the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS). 

Vicente Ladlad, consultant to the NDF negotiating panel, said in the same forum that the FPA is not acceptable to the NDF.

Ladlad said the Macapagal-Arroyo government practically delivered an ultimatum for the NDF to surrender.  The 29-page FPA, Ladlad revealed, “specifically asks [the NDF] to submit a roster of NPA guerillas and an inventory of firearms and demobilize the NPA within six months.”

Ople earlier told the media that if the NDF signs the FPA, he will ask the U.S., EU and other governments to delist the CPP, NPA and Sison as terrorists.

In response, the NDF said the GRP is violating the framework set by The Hague Joint Declaration.  According to the declaration, cessation of hostilities will be discussed after agreements on socio-economic, political and constitutional reforms have been reached. 

Ladlad charged during the forum that “militarist hawks call the shots in the peace process.” He said that members of the Cabinet Oversight Committee for Internal Security (COCIS) and special advisers Silvestre Afable and Norberto Gonzales wield more authority than the GRP negotiating panel.  Both Afable and Gonzales are authorized to sign agreements.

Ladlad also said the U.S. war on terrorism has emboldened the Macapagal-Arroyo government to resort to a militarist solution to the armed conflict.  “With the U.S. government designating the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as foreign terrorist organizations, the U.S. tells the GRP to treat these organizations accordingly,” said Ladlad.

Targeting MILF

Meanwhile, despite the peace negotiations, the Armed Forces launched military offensives in various parts of Mindanao in the guise of crushing Pentagon, said to be a kidnap-for-ransom syndicate.  

In May last year, a joint communique was signed by both government and MILF to address the issue of the interdiction of criminal elements and kidnap-for-ransom groups.  The MILF said that the mechanism for implementation was never set up due to non-cooperation by the defense department and the AFP.

In a statement addressed to the same forum, the MILF chairman Salamat Hashim complained that the offensives were targeting MILF community bases.  Karapatan, an alliance for the advancement of human rights, confirmed this in a recent  fact-finding mission. 

Karapatan documented evacuees and victims of human rights violations randomly interviewed from more than 100,000 evacuees from 12 towns in four provinces in Mindanao.  Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan secretary general said, that civilians are the victims of the government’s all-out war.

The MILF statement also condemned Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes for “repeating the same repressive acts without regard to the sufferings of the innocent civilians and non-combatants.” 

The pattern of offensive military actions under the Macapagal-Arroyo government has followed the same course as that of her predecessor Estrada government, MILF Chair Hashim observed.

The MILF said the excessive use of force and the massing of numerous troops betrayed the AFP’s sinister plot to capture Salamat as “high-value target.” Bulatlat.com

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