DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/29 September) – The government (GRP) peace negotiating panel on Friday launched the body that will monitor compliance with an agreement that seeks to protect the rights of noncombatants in armed conflict.
The government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in the Hague, The Netherlands on March 12, 1998.
During the launch of the “Peace Buzz” at the Rizal Park here, Presidential Adviser on Peace Process secretary Jesus Dureza announced the GRP monitoring committee on CARHRIHL has stations in Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City that will receive complaints or incident reports.
He emphasized the need to revisit the provisions of this agreement. He said it should be strictly observed even as the talks between GRP and NDFP have been put on hold pending an environment “conducive for peace negotiations” that President Duterte had asked from the New People’s Army (NPA), the communists’ armed wing.
“If we can put a lot of work in respect for human rights, then we are already moving forward. And the respect for human rights should not only be for government, we shall expect the other side of the table will also do equally — respect human rights of people. And so if we can make that work already, we are already moving forward although talks are still canceled right now,” he said.
Dureza said he hopes their counterparts from the NDFP “will respond accordingly”, although doing so is their judgment call.
The committee will monitor the implementation of the CARHRIHL by concerned units and agencies of government, and request them to act on any violation of the agreement.
Dureza put to task the two monitoring stations to encourage local government units and civil society to support the committee’s efforts and give updates to stakeholders on the status of the CARHRIHL and the Joint Monitoring Committee.
The GRP monitoring committee is chaired by lawyer Franklin M. Quijano, with Deputy Regional Prosecutor Barbara Mae Flores and Justice Undersecretary Antonio T. Kho as members and lawyer Caesar S. Europa (Integrated Bar of the Philippines and Alladin S. Diega (International Alert) as independent observers.
In a statement delivered by GRP peace negotiating panel member lawyer Antonio B. Arellano, GRP chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III said the government panel’s monitoring station is another milestone of government’s earnest efforts that manifests the Duterte administration’s adherence to and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
“By doing so, we have brought the GRP-MC’s ear closer to the ground, so to speak, in what is undeniably a conflict hotspot in our country, thereby enabling it to be readily accessible and responsive to the people sought to be served by the enforcement of CARHRIHL,” he said.
The fifth round of peace negotiation scheduled on May 27 to June 2 in the Netherlands did not push through, following the series of skirmishes between government forces and NPA rebels.
Dureza said the challenges [to peace] include the noticeable increase in attacks by the NPA throughout the country, the seeming perception of the bigger public that these NPA operations are in open and public defiance of President Duterte who has consistently accommodated them in unprecedented ways, the renewed surfacing of public apprehension questioning the sincerity of the CPP/NPA/NDF in the peace talks;
the public admissions of some panel members of the CPP/NPA NDF that they have no control over their forces on the ground, the sudden and perceptible erosion of public support to the peace talks with strong messages received from the public to altogether stop peace negotiations, the clamor now to pursue instead localized peace talks, and the latest statements from the President that he will no longer sign agreements with the rebels if all of these will continue.
‘Localized peace talks’
Dureza said it will not get involved in the localized peace talks that the city government of Davao has initiated because the GRP peace panel will only deal with the NDFP leadership.
“What are localized peace talks? Localized because it will not deal with the CPP-NPA-NDF. It’s our panel at the national level that deals with them,” he said.
He acknowledged though that local officials can best deal with the NPA commanders on the ground “because they know them, they know where they are, they know what their needs are, and they can also provide the assistance perhaps that are needed.”
He added the OPAPP will not participate in the localized peace talks, as these may be viewed by the communists as “pulling the carpet under their feet” while the GRP panel is negotiating with NDFP leadership.
The “Peace Buzz”, a nationwide caravan that aims “to promote the culture of peace through an-on-the-ground outreach to the public” as the highlight of the National Peace Consciousness Month, kicked off in Baguio City on September 21.
It arrived in Davao on September 29, and will culminate in Iligan City on October 1 with the ringing of the Peace Gong in an evacuation site for displaced residents of Marawi City.
“Hopefully, the Peace Buzz will place into public view what we have been doing quietly before,” Dureza said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)