PEACETALK: New developments and continuing challenges for peace

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 Feb) — Among the positive developments that came with the lunar new year was news of positive outcomes from the third round of talks between the Philippine government (referred to as GRP rather than GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples Army (NPA) at the negotiating table.

Although the much hoped-for signing of a bilateral ceasefire between the parties did not materialize—and indeed days later the CPP-NPA spokesperson Ka Oris Madlos announced the termination effective February 10 of the unilateral ceasefire declared in August 2016, to which President Rodrigo Roa Duterte reciprocated with the immediate lifting of the government’s own ceasefire order—there were other interesting developments from the talks.

The signing of the Ground Rules for the Conduct of the Formal Meetings between the RWCs-SER of the GRP and the NDFP which pertains

to the undertakings of the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) is intended to accelerate the negotiation process of this agreement that has been called the “heart and soul” of the talks.

The Ground Rules indicate systematization of the work, discussion and communication processes between the committees and the bilateral teams that would be set up. Beyond being merely a concern for protocol, it specifies the ways and modalities in which the two RWCs would engage each other, including bringing in resource persons, and meetings of bilateral teams in between formal rounds of talks.

While provisions in the Ground Rules that define the purpose, and do’s and don’ts of meeting documentation (only notes-taking, and audio recording unless disallowed; no video), and reiterate 1995 guidelines on media coverage and confidentiality are understandable given security and other considerations, it is unfortunate that there were no defined measures related to enhanced transparency and citizen participation in the discussion of the CASER.

The CASER will impact on all Filipinos, and not only those in the areas affected by clashes between the two forces.

The Common Draft CASER Framework and Outline signed in the October 2016 talks indicated the shared objective of the panels (“eradicate Philippine poverty and reduce inequality in all their aspects and dimensions to have a productive, decent, and dignified lives”), the outline (13 parts excluding the Preamble), and eight outcomes of comprehensive reform.

While the objective and outcomes sound positive, relevant and strategic, the actual agreements cannot and should not be left to the two panels, only to be announced to the public at the end.

Successful peace processes are measured not only by what gets signed, but also whether the agreements could be implemented, and the extent to which they address the roots and consequences of the conflict, and prevent the recurrence or breakout of new violence.

What underpins these is the long-term support of citizens and communities, which could not be secured if they would only be told about the changes brought about by the negotiations.

Despite the claims of government and the CPP-NDF-NPA that they represent Filipinos, and have the peoples’ interests at heart, there are enough lessons from our history, and around the world to cause Filipinos to invoke the adage “nothing about us, without us.”

Both panels should therefore commit to more public consultations as part of the negotiating process, among others. There are also practices of applying procedural justice to the peacemaking process. These would neither stall nor endanger the talks but rather strengthen the agreements. They also operationalize the statements both parties made earlier about the importance of public support.

The Introduction to the Colombia Final Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC is instructive: “citizen participation is the foundation for all the agreements that comprise the Final Agreement. Participation of society … is … guarantee for transparency … and contribute toward the construction of trust and the promotion of a culture of tolerance, respect and coexistence in general, which is an objective of all the agreements.”

There was relative lack of public reaction to the CPP-NDF-NPA termination of its unilateral ceasefire. Online discussions after the President’s announcement lifting the government order were of frustration, and tended to assume that the talks would no longer proceed.   Both sets of reaction point to the need to generate more knowledge of, and broad support for the peace process.

According to Pulse Asia’s December 2016 Nationwide Survey on Urgent Personal and National Concerns and National Administration Performance Ratings peace was among the most often mentioned national concerns of those in Class ABC along with jobs, workers’ pay, inflation, criminality, corruption and poverty. But it was not among the leading national concerns of the D and E classes.

It is easy to join the bandwagon when peacemaking is going well. But what the GRP and NDF peace table needs is a broad and mature constituency that understands that there will be trying times as the talks and related processes progress, and is committed to help the two parties stick to a process of seeking negotiated political solutions to armed conflict.

Let us work so that more voices from a cross-section of citizens, communities and civil society would urge both parties to stay the course, and also continue finding ways of reducing or preventing violence in affected or vulnerable areas.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/ her thoughts on peace. Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. Maglana is one of the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw. Please email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com)

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