Honoring agreements in peace negotiations

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last week’s column dwelt on the serious conflict between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front arising from Malacanang’s “heavy dilution” of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law — intended to implement the GPH-MILF comprehensive peace agreement signed in March — that President Aquino would certify to Congress as an urgent measure for approval within this year.

In a bid to resolve the conflict, the negotiators of both sides met in Kuala Lumpur this week. They returned to Manila today, but unlike in previous meetings no word has come out from either side.

A highly reliable source says that in Kuala Lumpur the government tried to renegotiate the agreements on territory and power-sharing. The MILF rejected the move, invoking President Aquino’s avowal of “sincerity” in honoring all signed accords.

Before proceeding to the meeting, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, also chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the BBL submitted to Malacanang, declared:

“The MILF will remain focused on pursuing the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination at all cost. The MILF will also leave no stone unturned in exposing the true state of things surrounding the BBL, which must be faithful to the letter and spirit of the (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). Truth must be pursued and error must be shunned.”

Soon enough, we’ll find out how this twist in the peace deal will affect the much-touted “achievement” of the government – for which the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process has reportedly sought to nominate P-Noy for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Honoring all signed agreements is also a critical issue in the now three-year suspension of the formal peace negotiations between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Recall that in February 2011, the government resumed the GPH-NDFP peace talks — suspended for almost a decade under the Arroyo regime — with a reaffirmation of 10 signed agreements and two supplemental accords forged under previous administrations. Foremost of these accords are the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the landmark Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

Yet within four months, the formal negotiations on social and economic reforms — expected to seriously address the root causes of the armed conflict that has run for four decades — failed to take off over bitter disagreements on the JASIG and mutual accusations of violations of the CARHRIHL.

The government refused to release the NDFP consultants protected by the JASIG who had been arrested and detained. Though unilaterally declaring the agreement “inoperative,” it hasn’t formally sought (in writing) its termination as required by the accord.

And whereas the AFP invokes the CARHRIHL whenever it accuses the New People’s Army of violations, the government hasn’t moved to enable the agreement to be implemented — which could have mitigated the adverse effects of the armed conflict. It has withheld its participation in the Joint Monitoring Committee, the body mandated to investigate and act on complaints filed against either party.

Various efforts to get the stalled peace talks moving forward — initially agreed on by the two parties through informal talks, facilitated by the Royal Norwegian government, and by largely church-based peace advocacy formations – have similarly stalled.

A window of opportunity however remains open: neither the government nor the NDFP has formally terminated the peace negotiations, despite the occasional exchanges of belligerent rhetoric. Both sides continue to declare willingness to pursue the peace talks. It seems to be a matter of creating the proper atmosphere to induce or convince the parties to go back to the negotiating table.

Happily, a new initiative has been taken along this line.

On Tuesday, July 15, a nationwide, broad-based movement — aptly named Kapayapaan with more than 50 convenors — will launch a campaign for the resumption of the GPH-NDFP peace talks. It will raise three calls:

• Resume peace talks!

• Honor all agreements!

• Address the roots of the armed conflict!

Kapayapaan encompasses a grassroots constituency (landless farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, women, youth) and alliance among “faith-based groups, human rights defenders, the academe, cultural and professional groups, and personages.” The convenors plan to reach out to more sectors as the campaign gains traction.

I was invited to attend two preliminary meetings of the convenors. The meetings produced a concept paper and a unity statement that succinctly retrace the background and define the issues in the stalled peace talks.

The concept paper sums up these points thus:

“The quest for a just and lasting peace… has been hampered by socio-economic inequities, social injustice, and a lack of democratic reforms that can empower the vast majority of our people. Thus social unrest, disunity and armed conflicts have become a seemingly permanent feature of Philippine society.

“As Filipinos committed to a just and lasting peace… we must contribute to the development of a strong, grassroots, nationwide and broad-based peace constituency and movement that can help get the talks back on its tracks. The peace movement shall accompany the talks, once resumed, to help ensure that agreements are directed at addressing the roots of the armed conflict. In this way we help bring the quest for a just and lasting peace closer to its desired end.”

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E-mail: satur.ocampo@gmail.com
July 12, 2014

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