What the peace talks would have accomplished by end of 2017

Three decades of peace negotiations could have achieved agreement on social and economic reforms

An agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to pursue the fifth and sixth round of talks, deciding for them to be discreet until good news may be shared, have been annulled following strong pronouncements of the GRP’s principal against the talks and the Philippine government’s counterparts in the talks.

Days before the fifth round of talks, Duterte declared that he was terminating the peace talks, declaring the revolutionary movement as terrorists, rearresting peace consultants freed on bail and mounting a crackdown on activist groups that the president tagged as ‘legal fronts’ of the revolutionary movement.

A fifth round of consultations and formal talks were scheduled in the fourth week of November, according to statements following the fallout, where the negotiating panel of the two parties were scheduled to polish common drafts and finalize three possible agreements.

First agreement that would have been signed

One of the three agreements to be finalized in the cancelled talks was on the substantive agenda on the table, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). Work on this agenda began with the resumption of peace talks between the GRP and NDFP in August last year, following Duterte’s electoral victory pronouncement that he would pursue peace talks with revolutionaries whom he referred in various years as his ‘friends’ and ‘allies,’ especially during his time as mayor of Davao City.

While there were no formal talks and the last round (would have been the fifth) was cancelled in May, the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) of both parties continued to work on their respective drafts and the common draft of the CASER. This was in view that the final common draft could be presented for signing by their respective negotiating panels and approval by their principals by January 2018.

The part on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and the National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED) of the CASER would have been initialed by both parties during the foiled fall talks in Oslo.

The salient points that both sides have belabored and agreed on in the technical meetings on the CASER included:

  • free distribution of land to tillers, farmers, farmworkers, agricultural workers and fisherfolks
  • agrarian reform beneficiaries who have not yet been able to occupy the land awarded to them will be installed immediately, including those in contested lands and agricultural estates
  • scope and coverage of agrarian reform will be expanded to include plantations and large-scale commercial farms covered by leasehold, joint venture, non-land transfer schemes like stock distribution option, and other such arrangements
  • measures to prohibit and eliminate exploitative lending and trading practices
  • need for national industrialization and for planning to develop Filipino industrial capacity
  • ensure that foreign investments cease being one-sided and contribute to developing the national economy
  • ensure protection for domestic industrialists and smaller enterprises
  • nationalizing public utilities
  • identify key industries and priority industrial projects to jump-start industrialization
  • acknowledge importance of unions and workers’ councils

The NDFP RWC-SER Chair’s statement said following the fallout, “further measures of even greater significance were set to be tackled.” If those listed above were the ones yet allowed to be announced publicly, how promising the “measures of even greater significance” would have been.

Even as the Philippine Constitution sets forth that those listed above should be delivered for the people, this is not the reality in the country. Any citizen not living under a rock could attest to this. And any well-meaning citizen would have seen the good that these reforms would bring, especially if these would also pave the way for armed conflict to cease.

The new setback in the talks would heap on around two decades that the two parties have not formulated and signed on a new agreement on the substantive agenda. The agreement for the first agenda was signed in 1998.

Negotiations on the CASER did not materialize in the administrations between Ramos and Duterte due to impasses (e.g. the Benigno Aquino presidency did not want to recognize the agreed framework of the talks) and disagreements (e.g. the NDFP did not want to talk with Gloria Arroyo given her human rights record and policies).

Why the negotiations on the CASER—even just to commence it—have been gristly is no surprise. The CASER is the heart of the peace talks.

This is a juncture the Philippine government could only tread one path—whether to continue the century-old domination by foreign nations and a few compradors and landlords or to distribute the wealth of the nation for the people’s direct and certain benefit.

Second agreement that would have been signed

The general amnesty and release of all political prisoners in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) would have been tackled in the peace negotiations. The release of political prisoners was in accordance also to the Philippine’s own jurisprudence on the Hernandez doctrine. This was also a campaign promise and should have been the goodwill gesture of Duterte as the talks reopened in August last year.

The first of four substantive agenda that was signed was the CARHRIHL in 1998. Work on the CARHRIHL began during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos, but was signed as then-President Joseph Estrada came to power. But even now, the biggest issues in its implementations are the state-perpetrated human rights violations that rival the numbers during the Martial Law of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention of activists on trumped up charges, hamletting, and aerial bombing of civilian communities persist to this day.

Third agreement that would have been signed

The coordinated unilateral ceasefires (CUC) as the advance from a stand-down type of ceasefire from the fifth to the sixth round of formal talks in January 2018 could have also been negotiated.

The GRP Negotiating Panel has long pushed for a ceasefire that is binding to both parties and the absence of which has been their justification for bolting out of the talks when encounters between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the New People’s Army ensue. But the NDFP panel has been wary that the kind of ceasefire that is prolonged without reaping successes on the negotiating tables for the CASER and the following agreements meant only surrender. While the two parties stand on different grounds, both negotiating panels agree to discuss this matter.

Why was this in the news?

News of peace talks termination broke out in the past week, much from the precession of President Rodrigo Duterte. Then, headline after headline on the issue came out. But how much do we understand about this matter? What is at stake that the people should even care? How do we try to understand why this is in the headlines?

Without meaning to oversimplify matters, the short answer is: there is a war raging in the countryside for 48 years (Duterte rounds this off at 50), participated by peasants and Filipinos pushed to take up arms against the incumbent government in a bid to seize power and implement its own rule that it saw would address the social ills of the nation. The peace talks meant to address the fighting of both sides—even as they sought to triumph against the other and even as they pledge to stand by internationally recognized rules of war. To negotiate an end to the fighting is by way of ushering some much-needed reforms in the economy, politics and social and cultural arenas of the nation. And this proposition, if yet to be fulfilled, is what a government in power can offer the other side that declared war to sit on the negotiating table and to consider peace. This is why there are peace talks and why the peace talks continue to be pursued.

As per the talks framework set in the The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, four substantive agenda would be negotiated successively, one after the other have been signed into an agreement. Agreements are binding to both parties, even if the GRP administrations change every six years. The peace negotiations between the GRP and NDFP started in 1986, when Corazon Aquino came to power following the successful people’s ouster of Ferdinand Marcos’ 14-year dictatorial rule and she promised peace along with the return of democracy.

There has been 30 years of peace negotiations, and while it remains stumped at its initial stages could only mean that there has also been little progress in addressing poverty and social injustice in the land.

Whether you are subscribed to the status quo or the revolution, reforms such as land reform, rural development, national industrialization, and better working conditions for workers among others are beneficial in yet a very backward nation. We are even no longer at the forefront of agricultural production and manufacturing and those were all the industry we have ever built. The last Association of South East Asian Nations Summit proved, if anything else, how we lag in the development race with our neighbors (much more with the rest of the world)—in terms of poverty reduction, defense industry, internet speed, and so much more than was pointed out.

If peace agreements would be achieved and implemented, this situation would actually lead to and mean some substantial changes in society that have not been achieved by decades of electoral politics or the post-Martial Law democracy.

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