Communist Party of the Philippines' Benito Tiamzon (C) and his wife Wilma Austria Tiamzon (L) gesture next to Jose Maria Sison, the exiled founder of the Communist Party, as Norway hosts peace talks between the Philippine government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Oslo last year. Photo:Reuters

In the recently concluded first round of talks in Oslo, Norway, the Philippines government and National Democratic Front signed 10 agreements. The second round of talks will be in October and there is still a long way to go for lasting and meaningful peace.

History must be viewed differently. Instead of using it as an excuse for the Philippines’ current woes, it should be seen as a guidepost to combat and deter future woes.

(From right) Representative of the Philippine government Jesus Dureza, representative of National Democratic Front (NDF) Luis Jalandoni and Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende after signing an indefinite ceasefire agreement, in Oslo, Norway August 26, 2016. NTB Scanpix/Berit Roald/via REUTERS

Among the Philippines’ woes is the more than 40 years of communist insurgency that has stymied the economic development of the country’s outskirts.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, the Philippine government’s principal law officer, said “the spirit of change” was the impetus for President Rodrigo Duterte’s move to forge a path to peace with the communist insurgents.

In the recently concluded first round of talks in Oslo, Norway, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) signed 10 major agreements anchored on firm commitments to indefinitely stop military offensives and an amnesty declaration that would soon be issued by President Duterte.

The final joint statement at the close of Round 1 of the talks was signed by Presidential Peace Adviser, Secretary Jesus Dureza and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Panel Chairman Silvestre Bello III, together with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison as well as NDF peace panel chairman Luis Jalandoni.

Witnessing the signing of the joint statement were Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende and the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) special envoy on the peace process Elisabeth Slattum.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) started their armed struggle against the government in 1968. Due to corruption, lack of land reform and development in rural communities during the time of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, peasant leaders and even students went up the mountains to join the armed struggle.

The peaceful revolt in 1986 that overthrew Marcos did not deter the communist insurgents from their fight against the government.

During the time of President Corazon Aquino, a 60-day ceasefire was declared. However, peace negotiations remained at standstill until 1992.

From 1992 to 1995, during the term of President Fidel Ramos, four agreements were signed during exploratory talks including the Joint Agreement between the GRP and the NDF on safety and immunity guarantees or JASIG and the Agreement on the Ground Rules of the Formal Meetings between the GRP and the NDF panels.

Then, from 1995 to 2004, 14 agreements were signed during peace negotiations.

In 2004, the NDF withdrew from the negotiating table after former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo supported the US’ war on terror and NDF’s armed component was included in the US’ terrorist list.

Highlight of the latest talks is the unilateral ceasefire and the goodwill shown by President Duterte in ordering the release of more than 20 NDF consultants facing charges including murder in various courts. They were allowed to leave the country and participate in the talks.

Leftist groups are hoping that the release of 21 NDF consultants who were able to join the peace talks, could lead to the release of more than 540 political prisoners.

The other major agreement signed by both parties was the accelerated timetable of the peace negotiations binding both parties to complete work on the substantive agenda within specific timeline.

Another agreement involves the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that set the target completion within six months.

Discussion on CASER is expected to prolong as it involves contentious issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy.

The other agreements that were signed included:

* Reaffirmation of previously signed agreements since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHR-HIL) “subject to further developments and enhancements as may be mutually agreed upon.”

* Reconstitution of the JASIG List which was presented by the NDF Panel to the GRP Panel. The JASIG protects certain NDF leaders and consultants from arrest and prosecution in recognition of their participation in the peace process.

* Formal revitalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee, a mechanism crucial in the implementation of CARHR-HIL.

* Commitment of the GRP to “cause the early release of prisoners (as listed by the NDF) who are sick, elderly, overly long detained and women based on humanitarian grounds.”

* Recommendation for President Duterte to “issue an amnesty proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress, for the release of prisoners who are listed by the NDF and who have been arrested, imprisoned, charged, and/or convicted for alleged acts or omissions within the ambit of the Revised Penal Code or special laws in connection with crimes in pursuit of one’s political beliefs.”

Duterte is keen on pursuing peace with the communist rebels. It was part of his campaign promise.

His actions, and accomplishment in a short span of time contrasts with that of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who took eight months to do it after assuming office on July 1, 2010 while Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took three years – before redeeming her vow to resume peace talks that had been scuttled by ousted President Joseph Estrada. Both leaders, however, failed to take a step further.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, NDF legal consultant said: “As we jubilate as we should, we have to be realistic, manage our expectations and keep our hopes intact. The fine print must not take over the writ large. After the din and drone of persevering but very cordial negotiations is the big work and long journey still ahead for real and meaningful peace that is not only just but also lasting.”

Dureza, on the other hand, urged the public to manage their expectations.

He admitted that while the first round is already a great development, the journey still cannot be considered a walk in the park.

Isolated incidents could still happen.

“We cannot discount that possibility, but the idea is both sides are committed. Do not expect this to be a walk in the park; there are still more issues that needs to be threshed out,” he said.

When asked about the NPA’s threat that failure of the military to pull out of civilian communities in the south could affect the government’s ceasefire declaration, Dureza said “that still has to be discussed. The matters about the specifics have be discussed by both sides.”

The second round of talks will be in October.

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