CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — Human rights group Karapatan welcomes the move of Pres. Duterte to revive the peace talks between his government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“We support earnest endeavours at attaining peace and resolving the roots of the armed conflict,” said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary-general, in a statement released Sunday (Dec. 8).
Last week, Duterte revealed of sending Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello III to the Netherlands to talk to Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder and NDFP Consultant Jose Maria Sison in what he called his “last card” in the quest for peace.
The president didn’t divulge any details but has apparently reversed his prior position towards the Communist movement. Last March, he officially announced the permanent termination of the peace negotiations and said the Communists could talk to the next president or when his term ends in 2022.
But the sudden change of heart of Pres. Duterte has made Karapatan skeptic.
“It is imperative to be cautious when pronouncements like this are fed into the public, especially when the policies and reality on the ground do not match alluring promises,” Palabay said.
She cited that alongside the continued detention and targeting of NDFP peace consultants, the President established the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict through Executive Order No. 70, which, she said, has “instigated a witch-hunt spree against the political dissenters and activists.”
Last October in Manila and Bacolod, offices of political organizations and residences of political leaders were simultaneously raided by government forces and 57 individuals, including minors, were arrested.
In November, the office of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Manila was raided where three were arrested.
However, Palabay said, they “will always welcome the thrust to continue the peace negotiations.”
Release all political prisoners
The sincerity in pursing the talks, according to Karapatan, “is inevitably linked to the release of all political prisoners in the country, as an issue of justice.”
Based on its November 2019 data, there are 629 political prisoners in the country where 382 of them, or more than half of the total number, were arrested under the Duterte government.
Political prisoners are those put in prison because of their political beliefs. They are victims of illegal arrests and detention, and trumped-up charges among others.
Palabay said political detainees should be immediately released in line with the government’s obligations under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.
“These agreements should foremost be reaffirmed by both parties,” she said.
Meanwhile, among the conditions set by Pres. Duterte for the talks is that it should be held in the country and the possible declaration of the bilateral ceasefire, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said in interviews.
NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison said the precondition set by President Rodrigo Duterte for the resumption of peace negotiations is “totally unacceptable”.
In a statement issued Saturday (Dec. 7), Sison criticized Duterte and his “sidekick” National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. for insisting that the talks be held in the Philippines.
“(I)t aims to put the NDFP and the entire peace negotiations in the pocket of the Duterte regime and under the control and surveillance of the bloodthirsty military and police who engage in mass murders and other heinous crimes with impunity,” the exiled founding leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines said.
The NDFP, through Sison, has welcomed the offer “for the sake of the Filipino people” and noted that they had “never closed the door to peace negotiations with the GRP under Duterte or any other president.”
But less than 24 hours after Duterte made the announcement, the precondition was set through Esperon.
“Remember that even before the peace talks ceased, the President already said he wanted the venue of the peace talks to be here. So that is the minimum requirement,” he told reporters at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
Sison has slammed Esperon for “declaring that it has no choice but to accept the resumption of peace negotiations in the Philippines.”
“Esperon should not try to gain from cheap ephemeral psywar and spoil or sabotage the possibility of resuming the peace negotiations in a foreign neutral venue before the mutual approval of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.”
Two successful rounds of negotiations under Duterte were held before it was terminated in 2017.
Who killed the negotiations?
Sison said the Duterte regime “killed the GRP-NDFP negotiations” since 2017 through its most important anti-peace issuances.
He was referring to Proclamation No.360, which terminated the said negotiations; Proclamation No. 374 which designated the CPP and NPA as “terrorist;” and Executive Order No. 70 which ordered the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“The aforementioned issuances of Duterte prevent peace negotiations anywhere in the universe if these are not overcome and repealed in conjunction with the reaffirmation of all agreements mutually approved by the GRP and NDFP since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992,” Sison said. — With reports from Jigger Jerusalem and Ken Cagula (davaotoday.com)