Ex-lawmaker optimistic on GRP-NDF peace talks

File photo of Lumad evacuees from Balaodo, Barangay St. Peter in Malaybalay City camping out in front of the provincial capitol in the city. The evacuees said they left their homes for fear of the Alamara paramilitary group. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 August) – Hopes for peace remain alive because President Rodrigo R. Duterte is “not the type of a person who immediately closes his mind and heart to everything” when it comes to the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front, former Gabriela representative Luz Ilagan said Monday.

“When he was our mayor, we knew that it was always peace that was the centerpiece of his program. His political agenda always revolved around peace. So, I think if the President is able to come up with actions that will make us go through or continue the negotiations, I believe it is because not only does he want peace in our country but I believe he can make it his legacy, the legacy of his administration” said Ilagan.

Ilagan is a member of the reciprocal working group on social and economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms of the government (GRP) peace panel.

In a press conference Monday, she expressed optimism negotiations with the NDF will resume because “we need to talk” to end Asia’s longest-running communist insurgency.

“Hope springs eternal,” Ilagan said even as Duterte had declared he would no longer negotiate with the NDF.

She said the people should learn to keep the “attitude that while there is life, there is hope.”

She said Duterte is the only president who has brought the negotiations to a fifth round and it even touched partly on social and economic reforms before hitting another impasse.

“PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) hanggang round (round) two lang. It was easy for the previous administration to drop the talks if they encountered a problem,” she said.

No official termination of talks

Duterte earlier told NDF consultants who were released on bail “to surrender or we will hunt them down.”

But GRP chief peace negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the NDF consultants may not be rearrested because the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) is still in effect as the talks have not been officially terminated.

JASIG guarantees 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. The immunity guarantees shall cover all acts and utterances made in the course of and pursuant to the purposes of the peace negotiations.”

Bello said no written notice of termination, which will take effect after 30 days upon receipt by their NDF counterparts, has been submitted.

He said they are still awaiting instructions from Duterte on the next steps after he called the communists “enemies of the state” during his second State of the National Address last July 24.

He said there is no sign that Duterte would change his stance on the peace talks with the communists.

“You heard the president. There is no more peace talk. He has already made his point very clear. He said, ‘no more talks with CPP-NPA-NDF,’ “he said.

Lumads “alarmed”

In a joint statement last month, PASAKA Confederation of Lumad and Save Our Schools Network said the “Lumads will lose their lives, homes, schools, their ancestral lands, and even their future if Duterte pushes through with the cancellation of the peace talks to give way to an all-out-war.”

“Has President Duterte lost his heart for the Lumad of Mindanao?,” it said.

It said they have considered Duterte an ally when he was mayor of Davao, and were “grateful to him how he listened to our appeals to withdraw military and paramilitary elements in our school and communities, and how he helped facilitate our safe return to our homes.”

“Now, his all-out-war, martial law extension, and recent pronouncements have alarmed us. In a time of conflict, such declarations that further incite war will put the whole country, especially Mindanao, in a disastrous path,” it said.

It said violations against the rights of indigenous peoples have worsened and accused the military of committing 20 attacks against their schools.

“Teachers and parents were illegally detained, others have barely survived murder attempts from paramilitary troops, and nearly 800 students and teachers were forced to leave their communities,” it added.

It said the militants “are disheartened with his (Duterte) recent stance of only looking at the loss of soldiers from his side.  What about us Lumads, Moro and peasants who have lost many of our leaders and members in the course of the all-out war and continuing plunder of our lands?” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)