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Volume IV,  Number 11              April 18 - 24, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Safeguarding Rights amid War
GRP, NDFP launch Joint Monitoring Committee

By Alexander Martin Remollino

Members of the GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) and their respective observers in a light moment. Not in picture is Danilo Borjal, JMC member from the NDFP.  Photo by Alexander Martin Remollino

A big event was happening in a small room at the office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines last April 15.  

In a press conference, the peace negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) announced the launching of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

According to Prof. Carlos P. Medina, Jr. JMC co-chair for the GRP, “The purpose (of the JMC) is to bring together the GRP and the NDFP in a joint collaborative effort to ensure the compliance of the signatories, the parties to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”

The launching of the JMC is considered a major breakthrough in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, which have been going on and off since 1986.

In a Message of Congratulations to the GRP and the NDFP panels released on the occasion of the launching, NDFP chair Mariano Orosa said: “With the JMC now fully operational, the mechanism to monitor the implementation of the CARHRIHL and investigate any reported violations thereof is in place. Both the NDFP and the GRP shall now be more conscious of their respective obligations to respect, protect and promote human rights and abide by the rules of war in the conduct of the armed conflict under international humanitarian law.”

“What is most important in the setting up of the Joint Monitoring Committee, as well as the Joint Secretariat,” said Fidel V. Agcaoili, JMC co-chair for the NDFP, “is that…now the two parties can proceed to discuss the other matters in the substantive agenda and the peace negotiations need not be bogged down by accusations of human rights violations or accusations of political assassinations, etc.”

Ambassador Paul Moe of the Norwegian government, which is acting as a third-party facilitator to the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, said in the press conference: “It is a great achievement, this establishment of the Joint Monitoring Committee and its Secretariat…and we hope it will contribute greatly to speeding up the peace talks/peace process, and we think it will be a very important contribution to…a just and lasting peace.” 

JMC basics

The JMC is tasked with receiving and investigating reports or complaints of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and initiating recommendations or requests for the implementation of the CARHRIHL. Decisions on these are to be made by consensus.

In the press conference, Agcaoili said: “Anyone can file complaints, so long as he feels that his human rights have been violated by either of the two parties.” He also said that individuals as well as organizations can file complaints.

Medina, for his part, said: “The person who could file a complaint may be a victim of a human rights violation, or a person with a substantial or sufficient interest in the subject or nature of a violation.”

Asked what rights are covered by the CARHRIHL, Medina said that the agreement covers civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations. “Although when we start to operate, there will be areas which we will consider priority cases,” he added. “We are aware that we will not be able to handle all the possible cases that can be filed with the Joint Monitoring Committee, and for that purpose we have agreed on some areas where there can be prioritization. It (the complaint) must arise from a civil/political rights violation arising from the armed conflict, that is a priority case…it must involve a case of urgency, it must be a grave case, it must involve a big number of victims.”

Pending the opening of talks on social and economic reforms, which make up the next agenda in the peace negotiations, how can economic, social, and cultural rights be tackled in the JMC? Agcaoili explained in a subsequent interview with Bulatlat.com: “For example, if peasants are being ejected from their lands, then they can submit complaints. If there are workers who are being paid less than the minimum wage, that is a violation of their rights, so they can also file complaints.”

The formation of the JMC took place in the midst of the two rounds of formal GRP-NDFP formal talks held in Oslo, Norway last Feb. 10-14 and last March 30-April 2.

Part V, Article 2 of the CARHRIHL states: “The Committee shall be composed of three members to be chosen by the GRP Panel and three members to be chosen by the NDFP Panel. Each party shall nominate two representatives of human rights organizations to sit in the committee as observers and to do so at the pleasure of the nominating Party. The Committee shall have co-Chairpersons who shall serve as chief representatives of the Parties and shall act as moderators of meetings.”

The co-chairpersons of the JMC are Prof. Carlos P. Medina, Jr. for the GRP and Fidel V. Agcaoili for the NDFP. Other members of the JMC are: lawyers Edgardo B. Gayos and Robert L. Larga for the GRP, and Coni K. Ledesma and Danilo F. Borjal for the NDFP. Nominated as observers to the JMC are Mercedes Contreras-Danenberg, former commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights, and Mary Aileen Bacalso of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance for the GRP; and Marie Hilao-Enriquez of Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) and Obispo Maximo Tomas Millamena of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church).

The JMC has also formed its Joint Secretariat, composed of five nominees each from the GRP and the NDFP. Members of the JMC Joint Secretariat are: Ma. Carla Munsayac-Villarta, Fe A. Oaing, Linda Cañete, Sandra Garcia, and Atty. Ma. Ngina Teresa Chan-Gonzaga for the GRP; and Atty. Edre Olalia, Marissa Dumanjug-Palo, Irein Cuasay, Rosie Tumbagahon, and Levie Ebio for the NDFP.

According to Agcaoili, “The Joint Secretariat is actually a technical and working group. It is the Joint Monitoring Committee…who would be acting on the complaints. The Joint Secretariat will (do) the office work…they will receive the complaints and distribute these to the parties concerned for their respective actions.”

Why it took long

The formation of the JMC is provided for by the CARHRIHL, which was signed by the GRP and the NDFP in 1998.

In an interview with Bulatlat.com after the press conference, asked why it has taken so long before a Joint Monitoring Committee could be established, Agcaoili said: “Remember, it was (former President Joseph) Estrada who approved the CARHRIHL, but afterwards he also terminated the peace negotiations, so all the time Estrada was there, nothing moved.

“Now when Mrs. (Gloria Macapagal-) Arroyo came to power after the overthrow or ouster of Estrada, she said she wanted the peace negotiations to continue, but then came the death of Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo—the number one human rights violator, according to Amnesty International, during the time of (Ferdinand) Marcos—they suspended the peace negotiations. Until last year, November, when they sent emissaries to conduct the formal negotiations.

“Both sides have seen the necessity of setting up a Joint Monitoring Committee—at least the GRP panel, you know, they see that if you keep the JMC pending and not in operation, then there will continue to be disruptions in the peace negotiations, with each side charging each other of human rights violations. Although I must stress, the NDFP has never suspended nor terminated peace negotiations for any reason whatsoever. We do not, as the GRP has been doing, terminate/suspend peace negotiations for reasons like the death of Aguinaldo, the holding of General (Victor) Obillo as prisoner of war—that was the reason why Estrada terminated the peace negotiations. Now if the Joint Monitoring Committee was already operational at that time, these matters could have been discussed there…so I think the GRP has already recognized the need for a JMC.

“Plus, you know, it’s election time. I think Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo would like to be seen as someone who is supportive of the peace talks.” Bulatlat.com

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