GRP, NDF agree on free land distribution under agrarian reform in CASER talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 April) – Free land distribution will be the basic principle of agrarian reform as one of the elements of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic reforms (CASER), the government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panels agreed during their fourth round of talks in the Netherlands.

In a seven-page joint statement, the parties agreed to accelerate the work of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socioeconomic Reforms with an exchange of comments on the contentious provisions on agrarian reform and rural development.

During the fourth round of talks in Noordwijk, The Netherlands from April 3 to 6, the committees exchanged their respective comparative “color-coded matrices” identifying both contentious and acceptable provisions of the drafts of CASER submitted by both parties.

These contentious provisions were then clustered into nine major topics: coverage, confiscation, compensation, lease/leaseback and plantations, international agreements/domestic law, political power/implementation mechanisms, land use, private insurance, and terminologies.

The committees agreed during initial discussions to convene bilateral teams, as defined during the third round of talks, with three members from each side and supervised by committee members to to work on the sections on agrarian reform and rural development and National Industrialization and Economic Development.

The joint statement said the bilateral teams will hold meeting in Manila or in another venue agreed upon by both parties.

Meetings will take place this month and in May. The agenda will include reconciling the the draft minutes of the third round of the bilateral meetings of the committees, and exchange of comments on the contentious provisions of the draft proposals.

Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines and chief political consultant of the NDFP wanted either the signing of CASER before a ceasefire agreement or the simultaneous signing of both agreements.

He said that it would be possible to forge CASER this year since the GRP and NDFP drafts contain common positions.

“I have read and studied the drafts of the proposed agreements from the GRP and NDFP and I have also examined the comparative matrices. I observe that there are enough concurrences and similar positions as common ground for forging the agreements,” he said.

The parties have signed an agreement on an interim joint ceasefire, which will take effect upon the approval and signing of the ground rules and will be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.

The interim joint ceasefire “aims to provide a conducive environment for the GRP and NDFP negotiations, encourage the forging of a more stable and comprehensive Joint Ceasefire Agreement and provide an enabling environment for the eventual and early signing of CASER.”

The GRP and NDFP panels directed their respective ceasefire committees to “discuss, formulate and finalize the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of the agreement, including rules governing the presence of armed units and elements of both parties in local communities, the creation of buffer zones, the prohibition of hostile and provocative acts, and ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanisms.”

Both parties further agreed to undertake the measures necessary to effect the immediate, safe and expeditious release of soldiers and police officers who are being held captive by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao.

NPA captives in Region 12 were scheduled for release before Easter Sunday (April 16) and those in Bukidnon after Holy Week. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)