Gov’t on new peace talks: neither here nor there?

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Not surprising at all, Vice President Sara Duterte early this week assailed the agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to return to peace negotiations.

The accord, signed in Oslo, Norway on Nov. 23 and made public early December, was “an agreement with the devil,” she said, urging Marcos Jr. to reconsider it.

Immediately, however, Sara’s nemesis, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, countered that the GRP-NDFP accord was “a moral imperative.” The House supermajority gave him full backing. 

NDFP negotiating panel member Coni Ledesma, asked by ANC to comment on Sara’s denunciation, dismissed the latter’s tantrums. What’s important, Ledesma said, is that the Marcos Jr. administration initiated the move to resume the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

Acknowledging the support to the government initiative of presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. (a retired AFP chief), Ledesma promised, “We will do our best to make the talks succeed.”

Sara issued her message to Marcos Jr. on the fifth anniversary of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), to which she had been appointed co-vice chairperson.

Promptly, the NTF-ELCAC secretariat sought to allay the negative impact of Sara’s pugnacious statement, lamely saying that her statements shouldn’t be misconstrued as being against Marcos Jr.’s policy on peace. At the same time, the secretariat displayed its own pugnacity by claiming that the positive developments on peace-building would “never stymie” the momentum of the task force’s counterinsurgency drive against the CPP-NPA.

Meantime, the Office the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), headed by Galvez Jr., doubled down on its stance that the agreement to go back to peace negotiations entails a new process – not a continuation of previous peace talks.

“The talks are new, no preconditions. We are not referring to anything previously discussed before. This is new. It’s not what’s called resumption of talks, it’s new. All details, what must be discussed, will be done so in the next meeting.”

That’s what presidential assistant and OPAPRU official Wilben Mayor asserted Wednesday during the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon public briefing on state television. A former police general, Mayor heads the OPAPRU office for local conflict transformation and peace sustainability.

Mayor repeated that offensive operations against the CPP-NPA would not be affected by the Oslo agreement to discuss peace again.

He made it clear that counterinsurgency operations of both the AFP and the PNP (in the guise of “maintenance of peace and order”) would continue as government and the NDFP pursue what he said were “exploratory talks” during the next few months.

“Every agency of the government will continue what they must do, there’s no stopping here,” Mayor declared. “This is a new discussion, a new dialogue, no precondition and we begin a new negotiation.”

But note what he said following that. Pointing out that the current administration is not discrediting the efforts of the previous leaderships, he capped his televised spiel by making this categorical statement:

“What our President aims for is to continue the peace process and he desires genuine and long-lasting peace for the progress of a new Philippines.”

If that is so – if Marcos Jr. really aims to continue the disrupted peace process – why does the OPAPRU continue saying the forthcoming discussions between the two parties would not refer to “anything previously discussed” or to the “resumption of talks?”   

What Mayor referred to as “exploratory talks” are expected to move towards forging an agreement on “the framework that sets the priority for the peace negotiations with the aim of achieving the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace,” as the two parties’ joint statement says. Such a framework is crucial, as it would also set the parameters for the final peace agreement.

Note two points in that portion of the joint statement forged in Oslo:

First, it refers to “the framework that sets the priority for the peace negotiations” – implying there is an existing framework – and not “a new framework” that the OPAPRU has been talking about.

Second, it refers to “the aim of achieving the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace.” As regards socioeconomic reforms, the  GRP-NDFP formal negotiations in 2026-2017 resulted in significant agreements that were hammered out during several intensive and extensive negotiations. These were signed or initialed by the members of the two negotiating panels.

Peace, justice and human rights advocates here and abroad hailed these breakthrough accords.

 The agreements included three drafts. There’s one on agrarian reform that highlights the free distribution of land for landless farmers to till, as well as measures for rural development (ARRD). Another one deals with national industrialization and economic development (NIED). Then there would be an interim peace agreement (IPA).

Finalization of the accords, however, was aborted by then president Rodrigo Duterte, who arbitrarily ended the negotiations on Nov. 23, 2017.

In August 2016, Duterte had gone about drumming up support for GRP-NDFP formal peace negotiations, which he promised to pursue should he win the presidency. The irony is that, owing to his erratic if not mindless public posturings, he denied himself of credit for having potentially advanced the peace negotiations on the crucial agenda of social and economic reforms. 

The texts of these aborted agreements are included in a compilation of the reproductions  (including signatures and initials of the negotiators around each document) in a book produced by the NDFP Human Rights Monitoring Committee titled, “The GRP-NDFP Negotiations Major Agreements and Joint Statements, September 1, 1992- June 9, 2018.”

These draft agreements, says the preface of the book, “could be used as basis for resuming the peace negotiations with any GRP regime that is willing to talk with the NDFP to address the roots of the armed conflict and pave the way for a just and lasting peace in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration [September 1,1992]” as the framework.

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