“We should work for ‘more talk towards more peace,’” Bishop Calang urged, adding that amid the ongoing civil war, the more important thing to do is to “not lose hope, especially from the part of the government.”
By MARILOU AGUIRRE-TUBURAN
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Various groups have raised the alarm after the Aquino government announced the “collapse” of peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
Saying the government should not be the first to lose hope, Bishop Felixberto Calang, main convenor of the peace advocacy group Sowing the Seeds of Peace in Mindanao, called on the GPH peace panel, particularly its chief negotiator Alexander Padilla, to “persevere” in either the regular of special tracks of the negotiations.
Padilla, in a statement posted at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process website, said the Aquino government has considered a “new approach” to resolve the armed conflict with the Communist Party of the Philippines-NDFP-New People’s Army (NPA) after a 22-month impasse and “the mounting violence” allegedly inflicted by the NPA “on soft civilian targets.”
The GPH peace panel chair was mainly referring to the armed confrontation between the NPA and the armed bodyguards of Gingoog City mayor last April 20. The incident led to the death of Guingona’s driver and bodyguard and the wounding of Ruthie, wife of former Senator Teofisto Guingona.
The NPA claimed responsibility on the attack as it issued an apology to the Guingonas. While the Guingonas condemned the incident, they have called for the resumption of peace talks to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Padilla, however, said they can’t “wait forever” for the other party that’s why they are embarking on a new approach for the peace talks. He claimed the NDFP continually refuse to go back to the negotiating table without preconditions, referring mainly to the release of the NDFP consultants detained by the GPH.
But the GPH Panel has agreed to “work for the expeditious release of detained NDFP consultants and other Jasig-protected persons,” as noted by a joint communiqué dated 18 January 2011, by the end of the exploratory talks of the two parties.
The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, signed by both parties in 1998, aims to provide guarantees to the negotiators and consultants of both parties against persecution by either side, thereby creating necessary conditions for peace negotiations.
In a previous interview with lawyer Edre Olalia, NDFP’s legal consultant, without compliance with Jasig, he said, the panelists and consultants cannot function.
Padilla also said the discussion on the Special Track, which has been proposed by NDFP consultant Jose Maria Sison, was closed because the NDFP came up with new demands.
The Special Track or the Proposal for Alliance and Truce as proposed by the NDFP was meant to “speed up and complement the regular track.” It does not, however, aim to replace or supplant the latter.
The said track has six elements, namely: Declaration of Unity and Peace; Strengthen national independence and promote industrial development; Creation of new political instruments to realize and promote the alliance; Identification of at least 20 key Philippine-controlled industrial projects in cooperation with other countries to complement other peace-building projects with assistance from various countries; and Carry out land reform program allowing big landowners to sell their land and invest in the industrial projects and truce leading to a just and lasting peace.
Padilla said the Special Track “imposed no preconditions” and would “skirt the protracted process of the regular track.” He added it would lead to an immediate ceasefire and creation of a Committee for National Unity, Peace and Development.
But he alleged that in February 25-26 this year, the NDFP, instead of discussing the Special Track, has proposed three new documents which “backtracked from their original position on a Draft Declaration, particularly on ceasefire.” He also said the NDFP wants to go back to the Regular Track.
The GPH, he said, doesn’t want to return to the regular track or formal talks “because it has been going nowhere for the last 27 years.”
But Calang said the GPH should not be disheartened that the talks had persisted for this long since 1986. He said adding up the actual time spent on the talks, it only transpired for less than a year. “For the rest of the time, there was a hiatus,” he said.
He also said the government should not expect “more peace” since there was clearly “less talk” in the peace negotiations through the years.
“We should work for ‘more talk towards more peace,’” he urged, adding that amid the ongoing civil war, the more important thing to do is to “not lose hope, especially from the part of the government.”
Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) also said that Malacanang’s announcement of the supposed collapse of the talks “despite the absence of active efforts to actually initiate dialogue” only displayed GPH’s “antagonistic stance” in the negotiations.
GWP Representative Luz Ilagan said the GPH should be forthcoming in pursuing peace negotiations and “should not be the first to drop the gauntlet.”
“If the Philippine government’s intent is to genuinely seek avenues for peace then it must pursue further negotiations so that it can find ways to address the roots of the armed conflict. Unfortunately the Philippine government’s attitude has been the exact opposite,” she lamented.
Padilla said the GPH remains open to renewed talks but with under a new framework.
While Calang was hopeful with his announcement, he also cautioned that such should “be within the bounds” of The Hague Joint Declaration which was signed by both parties in 1992.
“If the ‘new approach’ is unacceptable to either party and dissolves ‘The Hague,’ then it becomes counterproductive,” Calang pointed out.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Teresita Deles, said they have undertaken discussions and consultations with civil society groups and various sectors initially in Bacolod, Davao, Naga and Manila to develop the new approach.
“This (approach) will seek to address concerns both on the peace table and on the ground, especially among the communities most affected by the conflict. We are not ready to give details at this time,” she said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Calang said his group remains hopeful as the peace talks already produced agreements “beneficial” to the people whom, he said, are the real stakeholders in resolving the roots of the armed conflict. He noted the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law signed in 1998 by both parties.
He said solving the roots of the armed conflict should not be limited by a 2016 deadline, as it is impractical. Since the peace talks is a strategic engagement for all stakeholders, Calang said, both parties to the conflict should look far ahead.
NDFP’s Negotiating Panel Chair Luis Jalandoni has already announced they are willing to move towards the resumption of formal peace talks, based on the previously signed binding agreements.
“The peace negotiations should address the roots of the armed conflict through
fundamental economic, social and political reforms which will pave the way to a just and lasting peace,” he said. (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com