Gov’t, NDF urged to pursue Caser talks

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/06 September) – The peace panels of government and the National Democratic Front should “exert more effort in ironing out” snags that led to the postponement of talks on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser), a church leader said on Monday.

In a phone interview, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Bishop Felixberto Calang also called on President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to “talk to the NDF’s principal like he did with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair (Al-haj Murad Ebrahim) in Japan, last month.”

The meeting on Caser is supposed to take place on September 12. However, the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms has decided to postpone the submission of tentative drafts to both peace panels.

In a phone interview on Monday, NDF peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni said the postponement was meant to give the government panel time to release their [NDF] “peace consultants” detained all over the country, in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig).

Government is reportedly holding at least 300 political detainees, including some NDF consultants. Three of the 17 detained consultants — Jovencio Balweg, Maria Luisa Purcray and Jaime Soledad — were released in July. Another consultant, Glicerio Pernia, was freed on August 3.

Jalandoni expressed doubts the talks would push through this month with the rest of their consultants still languishing in prison even if they are ready with their draft position on socio-economic reforms.

“Although the news about the postponement is frustrating, we still call on both peace panels to look for opportunities and solutions. We still maintain that military action cannot lead to just and lasting peace. It is only through principled negotiations that we can achieve substantive settlements,” Calang, a convenor of the Sowing the Seeds for Peace, said.

He said that the Caser panel talks are important towards addressing the root causes of insurgency in the country, issues on economic opportunities, genuine land reform and national industrialization.

“We appeal to the President to take bolder steps towards peace. A government not concerned with peace building will not survive because it will face ‘anti’ situations. As the principal of the government panel, he must unify all agencies in government toward the resumption of peace talks,” he said.

Jalandoni meanwhile said he will meet with representatives from the Royal Norwegian Government and government peace panel chair Alexander Padilla later in the week to discuss “how to ease out the problems.”

“We will resolve these issues para matuloy ang talks. Sana sa October, tuloy na,” he said.

Under The Hague Joint Declaration inked on September 1, 1992 at The Hague, The Netherlands, both parties agreed to “reach tentative substantive agreements on four substantive issues in the agreed agenda.” These are (1) human rights and international humanitarian law, (2) socio-economic reforms, (3) political and constitutional reforms, and (4) end of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Jalandoni said members of the government negotiating panel should have a “direct line to the principal, can represent its constituents and will to find solutions. Hindi yong nagbibigay ng problema.”

“Sa time nila ni Bello (Silvestre), during President Fidel Ramos’ time, who was really hands-on, we were able to ink 12 agreements,” he said.

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is interfering too much. The AFP should not dictate. The government’s peace panel should assert civilian supremacy and political leadership over the AFP,” said Jalandoni in mixed English and Tagalog.

However, government peace panel member and RWC-SER chair Ednar Dayanghirang said the Caser talks would have pushed through as scheduled next week had the NDF not “deviated” from the Oslo Joint Statement signed in Oslo, Norway on February 21.

Under the Oslo Joint Statement, both Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on Social and Economic Reforms agreed “to have three (3) bilateral meetings to be held in the second week of June and the second and fourth weeks of August 2011, respectively.”

“Why don’t we just follow what we have agreed during the February talks. If we followed the schedule, after the three committee meetings we would have had a common draft to submit to the peace panels,” Dayanghirang said in a phone interview Monday.

He said negotiations for the release of the detained NDF peace consultants could only be taken up at the “panel level meetings.”

“The NDF panel unilaterally postponed the RWC-SER meetings last June because they demanded government to release their detained peace consultants. The RWCs of both panels have not met even once,” he said.

To expedite the NDF’s demand, Dayanghirang said, sometime on the third week of July, both panels opened the safe containing the names and pictures of NDF members covered by the Jasig.

“However, we were surprised to find a 3.5″ floppy diskette,” he said.

Dayanghirang claimed the NDF told them they did not have hard copies of the list and pictures of their peace consultants only a day before they opened the safe.

“Right now, Jasig is rendered inoperative because there is no way we can verify who are covered by the guarantee,” he said.

He added that the NDF proposed to update the list of consultants since a number of the persons on the old list were already dead.

“This means, they can write any name they want to be released. Pwede ‘yan pero doon na nila ihayag sa formal panel meetings,” Dayanghirang said. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)