Informal GRP-NDFP consultations to continue

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 May) – Despite the cancellation of the 5th round of talks between the government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the Netherlands, informal bilateral consultations between the working groups of both panels will continue in the Philippines for the “eventual” resumption of the negotiations.

In a statement posted on the NDFP website on May 29, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel V. Agcaoili pointed out that the respective working groups of both parties may continue holding bilateral consultations “because the peace negotiations are still on.”

The GRP withdrew from the 5th round of talks scheduled for May 27 to June 2, after seeing “no compelling reason” to continue their participation in the talks, following the CPP’s pronouncement urging its armed wing, New Peoples’ Army (NPA), to launch more offensives across the country after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.

In his opening statement on May 27, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza cited the reasons for GRP’s withdrawal from the talks.

These included the increasing attacks by the NPA throughout the country; the seeming public perception that such attacks are in open defiance of Duterte who has consistently accommodated them in unprecedented ways; the renewed surfacing of public apprehension questioning the sincerity of the NDFP in the talks; the public admissions of some NDFP leaders that they have no control over their forces on the ground;

the sudden and perceptible erosion of public support to the peace talks with the growing clamor to altogether stop it and pursue instead localized peace talks; and the statements of the president that he will no longer sign agreements with the NDFP if all of these will continue and not be addressed.

Agcaoili said all NDFP panel members and consultants who composed the bilateral teams of the reciprocal working committees on social and economic reforms and reciprocal working group on political and constitutional reforms should “remain free and unhindered to go about their work.”

Despite the setback, he said that all previously signed agreements and agreed processes and conditions for the peace process remain “binding, operational and in effect”, most especially the the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

He said the NDFP got assurance from GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III to uphold JASIG, which prohibits state forces from arresting any person covered by it and filing cases against them in courts “to be able to freely participate and promote peace process in the country.”

Bello told reporters covering the 5th round of talks in the Netherlands that the cancellation was just a temporary setback and that the respective committees will continue to operate so that they will be ready to operate once the talks resume.

The JASIG, Agcaoili said, guarantees NDFP negotiators free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations.

It also gives them immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.

He said, “We deem it necessary to underscore the continuing effectivity of the JASIG in order to prevent any misreading or misinterpretation that would lead prosecutors to move for, and for the courts to cancel, the bail bonds of NDFP consultants still facing charges and for the police and military to arrest NDFP consultants who are set to return to the Philippines following the GRP’s cancellation of the fifth round of formal talks.”

In a separate statement on May 27, Agacoili cited Dureza as saying the GRP would not “participate in the scheduled fifth round of talks unless there were clear indications that an enabling environment conducive to achieving just and sustainable peace in the land through peace negotiations across this table shall prevail.”

He said the GRP demanded, among others, that the CPP rescind its order to the NPA to launch more offensives and NDFP sign immediately a joint ceasefire agreement even without the necessary agreements on social, economic and political reforms in place.

But Agacoili said these demands are “unreasonable” and have disrupted the 5th round of formal talks.

He maintained the bilateral ceasefire can’t be signed just yet because there are no social and economic reforms and GRP one-sidedly “demands from the NPA to stop fighting while the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) continues its all-out war against the NPA and the people.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)