(Message of Fidel Agcaoili, chair of the peace panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines to the Mindanao Media Forum on Peace, Martial Law and Marawi Rehab in Davao City on 16 November 2018. The message was sent via e-mail and read at the forum)
After a long hiatus from the signing of the 2004 Oslo Agreements through the rest of the Arroyo and Aquino terms, the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations during the first two years of the Duterte administration made unprecedented advances and breakthroughs. Foremost are the release of 19 JASIG-protected NDFP consultants in August 2016 to enable them to participate in the talks, the unprecedented six-month simultaneous unilateral ceasefires by the AFP-PNP and the NPA, and the breakthroughs in the drafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), where common ground was found and the discussions became more collaborative than adversarial.
However, the GRP started to backtrack from its commitment to release all JASIG protected persons (Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza) and the more than 400 political prisoners. Matters started to deteriorate further when during the ceasefire period, the GRP continued with its military operations and occupation of communities under the guise of its so-called peace and development program which resulted in the raid of an NPA camp in North Cotabato in the middle of January 2017 while the third round of talks was ongoing in Rome, Italy, prompting the NPA to take on an active defense posture.
Despite differences as a consequence of the lifting of the unilateral ceasefires in February 2017, the talks resumed in April after informal or backchannel talks were held in March. But the GRP called off the 5th round of formal talks in May after the war in Marawi broke out and the DND/AFP rejected a proposal for a limited ceasefire and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Marawi.
An attempt was made to resume the talks in October and November 2017. But the GRP withdrew from tentative agreements to declare simultaneous stand down of forces and resume formal talks. On November 23, 2017, Duterte issued Proclamation 360 declaring the
termination of negotiations, and two weeks later Proclamation 374 declaring the CPP and NPA terrorist organizations.
Again, an attempt was made to resume the talks with a series of informal talks from March to June 2018. But on June 14 the GRP again withdrew from an agreement to simultaneously announce on June 21 a Stand Down of Forces which would have led to the resumption of talks in Oslo, Norway on June 28-30.
The recent illegal arrests and filing of trumped up criminal charges against NDFP consultants who have taken part in the talks in 2016 and 2017 have sunk the negotiations deeper in impasse.
The “postponed” resumption of formal talks in June 2018 would have led to the signing of an Interim Peace Agreement, with the following components: (1) a General Amnesty Proclamation for Political Prisoners signed by the President and to be submitted to Congress for its concurrence, (2) Panels approval of the initialed agreements on Land Reform and Rural Development, and National Industrialization and Economic Development, the first two and most crucial sections of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), worked out by the Reciprocal Working Committees, and (3) an agreement on Coordinated Unilateral Ceasefire, which would have led to the crafting and signing of an Interim Joint or Bilateral Ceasefire, alongside the crafting and signing of the rest of the CASER.
The Interim Peace Agreement would have been a major breakthrough in the peace process, a clear and positive advance towards resolving the armed conflict by addressing its roots through substantive and basic reforms.
The initial reasons conveyed by the GRP to the NDFP for the postponement were: (1) the President needed time to review the draft agreements, and, (2) for the GRP to conduct consultations with stakeholders or “engage the bigger table… to lend legitimacy to the process”. Later, it was announced that the consultations were meant to create a “conducive and enabling environment” for the resumption of talks. The NDFP had been given the impression throughout the informal or backchannel talks that the GRP President was on board and that tentative agreements had been cleared with him before and after each round of informal talks from March to June 2018.
These reasons were later followed by unwarranted preconditions:
1) the peace talks must be held in the Philippines and not in any foreign country in violation of the JASIG provision on the holding of formal talks in a foreign neutral venue; 2) the NDFP should not demand or negotiate for a “coalition government” which was never demanded by the NDFP across the table;
3) the NDFP should stop its armed attacks on government security forces (armed forces, police and paramilitary or auxiliary forces) despite the fact that there is no ceasefire in place; and,
4) the NDFP should stop collecting revolutionary taxes which the two Parties agreed to address in the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) as stated in the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire of April 5, 2017.
Subsequent events and official pronouncements reveal the purpose behind the GRP’s “postponement” of the formal talks scheduled in June 2018.
As the NDFP had anticipated, the GRP has reverted back to its counter-insurgency framework of “ending the insurgency” by December 2018, later moved to the end of the second quarter of 2019, through a combination of sustained military attacks and occupation of communities, psywar and enticements to surrender, and selective assassination of peasant labor and indigenous peoples’ leaders, activists of youth, women, human rights and lawyers groups, and even religious, and the arrest and detention on trumped charges of suspected members or supporters of the revolutionary movement.
The shift to “localized peace talks” is intended to abandon the bilateral negotiations on a national level where the GRP is constrained to deal with basic social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict.
After five months, the GRP seems to have realized that no local NPA command nor CPP committee would engage in “localized peace talks”. Thus, AFP commands and compliant LGU units are again pushing hard to produce NPA surrenderers, initially claimed to be coming “in droves”. Many of these were exposed to be faked surrenders, especially of alleged “mass supporters”.
The AFP-proposed National Task Force using the “whole of nation approach” with 12 pillars or “clusters of cooperation” is an undisguised attempt to militarize Philippine society and put into effect virtual martial rule that would only lead to more repression and greater resistance from the people.
No amount of “surrender” announcements, body counts, arms recovered, camps overrun and guerrilla fronts dismantled will end the people’s resistance for as long as so long as exploitation and oppression exist. The socio-economic crisis breeds struggle and resistance; oppression begets further resistance and struggle.
The NDFP, for its part, has repeatedly and unequivocally declared that it remains open to the resumption of the peace talks in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration and all bilateral agreements without preconditions.
Meantime, it continues to work on the following: 1) Explaining the principled and just positions of the NDFP with respect to the above issues, and securing support for a broad and strong peace constituency that would work towards addressing the roots of the armed conflict in order to pave the way for a just and lasting peace in the country;
2) Continuing to provide flesh to the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in the monitoring of HR and IHL violations, the receiving, processing and verifying of alleged complaints, conducting training and seminars, and issuing publications; 3) Continuing consultations on the NDFP CASER draft, and propagating its proposals on land reform and rural development, national industrialization and economic development, financial and monetary reforms, just social policies, and protection of the environment; 4) Continuing to improve on the NDFP draft Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms; and, 5) Conducting broader and deeper studies on the End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.
Notwithstanding the current impasse, the NDFP seriously takes on the task of building on whatever gains have been achieved in the peace negotiations to maintain, broaden and raise the national discourse and action on what needs to be done to attain a genuinely free, democratic and just society.