The turn of events on the peace process was as quick as it has not been seen in a decade or so. President Rodrigo Duterte’s strong pronouncements for peace has even the public rather quiet or uninformed on the peace talks cheering this on, almost as they did his promise to end crime and the drug scourge.
As early as June or even before the president took his oath of office, preliminary talks were held between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippine (NDFP), a far cry from what previous administrations have achieved. A joint statement was signed, containing the release of the consultants of the NDFP, recognition of previous signed agreements and resumption of formal talks in July. Peace talks were moved pending the release of jailed consultants, which the NDFP deemed as violations of the administrations before Duterte of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). In his first State of the Nation Address come July, Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire. He vowed to achieve peace in his term.
But in a matter of five days, Duterte withdrew his unilateral ceasefire if the other party would not declare their own. This done, even if according to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said they had sent word that they would declare ceasefire in a few hours. In a matter of another few days, the president declared to end peace talks if the CPP’s New People’s Army (NPA) would continue to use landmines.
As the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus Dureza has been recently heard repeatedly saying, the road to peace is bumpy.
Also, events in history and stories etched in memories or inked on paper tell that it has never been smooth. And truly, it has never really been quick.
The civil war in the Philippines
“There will be no need for peace negotiations if the armed struggle would stop. As far as the revolutionary movement is concerned, it [the armed struggle] is not the cause, it is a result of widespread poverty and oppression,” said CPP founder and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison in a Skype peace forum on August 6 in Quezon City.
The CPP with its political arm NDFP and its armed component the NPA have been waging a guerilla warfare in the countryside for 47 years now, if dating by the establishment of the NPA.
The CPP’s “people’s war,” a war that is said to be participated by the majority most downtrodden peasant class, traces itself to Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan’s 1896 revolution against 300-year Spanish colonization. In history, it is known that said old revolution’s victory was snatched away by new superpower United States of America (US) colluding with losing Spain. In this day, the war is said to be against US hegemony and its local bureaucrat, landlord and big business collaborators.
The “Reds” as they are wont to be called, vowed to end poverty and injustice through its people’s war. “The years of injustice and poverty have pushed the people to fight, if not perish”, the dictum goes. These social issues are what are referred as “root causes of the armed struggle.”
Also alike the Katipunan, the CPP has its own form of government, justice system, armed forces and influence over areas it calls “red areas” on a nationwide scale, giving it the recognition of having established its own government in the Philippines, albeit a smaller or weaker one.
Even the more than 60-year old Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a “basis” for the people’s “right to rebel”. It states in its preamble, “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…” a recognition that the people’s war might be the people’s last recourse to preserve life and dignity. This is only a little similar to what the CPP-NPA-NDF stands for in its “just war.”
Why there are peace talks between two parties
According to Rey Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center, “status of belligerency is achieved in the field, not on the negotiating table, when a force achieves requisites to wielding state power and other states acknowledge or recognize.”
The CPP started to sit down on the peace negotiating table when Corazon Aquino came to power after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by a People Power Revolution in 1986. There was a mutual ceasefire between Cory’s government and the CPP until state troops opened fire at protesting farmers in Mendiola killing 13, now the infamous Mendiola massacre of 1987.
Subsequent administrations followed suit in continuing the negotiations with the revolutionary movement, with varying results and successes, all putting to light or question a sincere move towards peace or towards eliminating the said root causes of the armed conflict.
At present, the Royal Norwegian Government serves as third-party facilitator for the peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP.
But many times the GPH has resorted to cowing the NDFP to capitulation, even on the formal peace tables, the last of these attempts during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III when then GPH Panel Chair Alexander Padilla called the The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 as “a document of perpetual division.”
The Joint Declaration that was signed on September 1, 1992 in The Hague, Netherlands laid down the framework of the peace negotiations that is mutually acceptable principles to both parties which are national sovereignty, democracy and social justice.
What do the Reds care for? The end of poverty and social injustice, they say. That is why they agreed to talk on these substantive agendas: human rights, social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and then the end of hostilities and disposition of forces. As the government signed The Hague Declaration too, they must care for these and want to end poverty and social injustice as well.
In three decades of peace talks, negotiations on only one of the four substantive agendas have been completed. The Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect of International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) was signed in 1998.
The talks have stalled in previous administrations because of GPH’s refusal to honor previously signed agreements.
“Even if the current talks are seemingly volatile, there is a much strong basis or foundation compared to the previous three administrations as now being validated by ongoing efforts to resume formal talks and release consultants in accordance with JASIG and for the NDFP consultants to be able to attend the Oslo talks,” said Casambre.
Ceasefire agreement as part of peace talks
Sison said that if the NPA would lay down their arms, they will not be to further strengthen their forces and will not be able to fight for the oppressed people’s rights and interest.
A ceasefire, however, would not mean laying down of arms for the revolutionaries, particularly the NPA, but only a temporary suspension of military operations. The revolutionary movement has repeatedly said that laying down of arms is tantamount to surrendering and losing its negotiating power.
During the forum, NDFP Peace Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni said that the CPP and NDFP is open to the possibility of declaring ceasefire during the talks.
However, he said that “both parties should agree on the content of ceasefire declaration to avoid miscommunication.”
What went down the recent ceasefire hubbub? Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDFP during his SONA on July 25. It was praised by many groups and welcomed by the NDFP in a statement a few hours after the declaration. The NDFP said that they will study the declaration as soon as they receive its text.
The Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) issued its Suspension of Offensive Military Operations (SOMO) on July 26 and the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Suspension of Offensive Police Operations (SOPO) on July 27.
“When we got the copy of the SOMO and SOPO we discussed it and had some objections and questions,” said Jalandoni.
He said that there was no clear declaration that the offensive operations in Lumad communities would be stopped and paramilitary groups will be disarmed, Civilian-Military Operations (CMO) in the guise of “Bayanihan” activities will continue, and legal offensives against revolutionary and legal personalities will be stopped.
However, an angry Duterte issued an ultimatum to the CPP to declare their own ceasefire until 5:00 p.m. of July 30 during his visit to a military camp in Asuncion, Davao del Norte and threatened to withdraw his unilateral ceasefire declaration. The ultimatum was prompted by an NPA action against military troops in Kapalong, Davao del Norte.
A few days earlier during Duterte’s visit to Camp Nakar in Lucena City, he demanded that the CPP explain the incident and threatened to withdraw his ceasefire declaration.
On July 27, the NPA undertook an ambuscade against Philippine Army’s 77th Infantry Battalion, Civilian Auxilliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and Alamara paramilitary troops that were off to a military offensive operations in Sitio Muling, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte. An Alamara member, Panggong Bukad, was killed in the ambush and wounded four others.
The Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, meanwhile, reported that “the CAAs [CAFGU Active Auxilliary] from 72nd Infantry Battalion under the operational control 60th Infantry Battalion were on their way back to their camp at Sitio Patil, Brgy Gupitan in compliance to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the President during his SONA last July 25.”
Human rights group Karapatan however confirmed that Bukad is an Alamara member.
“The AFP created groups like Alamara as force multipliers to wage war in a political and military way against the Lumad whom they perceive are sympathetic to the case of revolutionary movements such as the CPP,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay in a text message.
In a statement by the Comval North Davao South Agusan Sub-Regional Command of the NPA, Aris Francisco, the spokesperson of the NPA command said that, “the ambush was in adherence to the directive of the NPA National Operations Command for Red fighters to maintain on alert status and on active defense mode in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declared unilateral ceasefire.”
He further stated that “the AFP deceived its own Commander-in-Chief” by reporting that the troops were returning to their detachment in Sitio Patil, Brgy. Ginupitan from a Peace and Development Outreach Program. The NPA claimed that the military troops and Alamara have been conducting military offensives in Kapalong since July 5.
“We should not accept military reports on face value, these reports should be investigated,” Jalandoni stated.
Duterte withdrew his unilateral ceasefire declaration on July 30, a few hours before the CPP was supposed to issue their own ceasefire declaration.
Duterte no longer responded to the reports of the NDFP and the Mindanao command of the NPA on the incident.
Duterte is known to be no stranger to the NPA in Mindanao. The NPA has released its numerous prisoners-of-war to Duterte, then serving as Davao City Mayor, and the latest was when he was running for president in the May 2016 elections.
As agreed by both parties during the exploratory talks in Oslo, Norway last June 14-15, 2016, a mode on interim ceasefire would be discussed during the resumption of formal talks.
New Duterte ultimatum on landmines
In a speech addressed to military personnel in the the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, Panacan, Davao City on August 7, 2016 after visiting the wake of soldiers killed in an encounter with the NPA in Compostela Valley, Duterte issued another ultimatum to the CPP-NPA-NDFP.
“I am saying now: Stop the land mines, or you tell the leaders pati itong gobyerno ko, get out from the talks. Alam mo bakit? I am now invoking the Geneva Conventions. It is part of the international law, not only of the Philippines but around the world. Either you stop it or we stop talking,” Duterte demanded.
In a statement released August 8, the CPP said it “rejects the new ultimatum set by GRP President Duterte demanding an end to the NPA’s use of CDX landmines.” The CPP described such ultimatum as “a poorly-crafted deflectionary tactic” that Duterte might be using to put the blame on the NDFP for the repeated postponement of the peace talks.
“He would also succeed in proving that his government is indeed different from the past regime which only used the peace negotiations in the vain attempt to cause the surrender of the NPA,” also said the statement, referring to Duterte’s promise of releasing the NDFP political consultants and the political prisoners in the country.
The AFP has always claimed that the NPA violates international conventions because of the use of landmines whenever they suffer casualties from raids.
“For many years now, the AFP has repeatedly threatened to file charges against the NPA for violating international conventions over the use of CDX landmines. Until now, not one case has been filed. We challenge them to do so,” the CPP said in a statement.
The Geneva Conventions, specifically the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices signed in 1980, states that indiscriminate use of landmines are prohibited if it is not directed at military target, employs a method of delivery which cannot be directed at a specific military objective or which can cause injury or loss of civilian life and properties.
On the other hand, the Ottawa Convention of 1997 (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction), emphasized the prohibition of anti-personnel mines. These are mines “designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.”
The convention further clarified that “mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered antipersonnel mines as a result of being so equipped.”
In a statement, Jalandoni said that “the New People’s Army can use these weapons [CDX landmines] in its military operations inasmuch as there is yet no ceasefire of any kind which is valid and effective between the NPA and the AFP.”
People must push for peace talks
The CPP in its statement on landmines also said it “reiterates its support for peace talks” and again urged Duterte “to fulfill his promise to release all NDFP consultants in order to have them lend their expertise in scheduled negotiations and discussions on socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.”
Jalandoni reiterated that the NDFP is determined to work for a just and lasting peace and is looking forward to the resumption of the formal talks in Oslo, Norway this August 20-27.
Secretary Dureza has assured the public that the formal talks would resume as scheduled and political prisoners would be released.
Sharon Cabusao, a former political prisoner who was recently released, also present in the Skype peace forum, emphasized on the role of the people in the peace process.
“The path to peace is never an easy one, that is why it is our continuing duty to push for a just and lasting peace,” said former political prisoner Sharon Cabusao, during the peace forum.
Jalandoni concluded that the efforts of all peace loving organizations who wants to achieve a just and lasting peace and address the root cause of armed conflict have a task in organizing and mobilizing the people for the cause.