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STREETWISE: Dark clouds over GPH-NDFP peace talks

By Carol P. Araullo
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s dramatic declaration of a unilateral ceasefire vis a vis the CPP-NPA-NDFP to usher in the peace talks slated to resume on August 20 was, for all intents and purposes, one of the high points of his one-and-a-half-hour-long State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25.  He said it was to be effective immediately.
The President’s announcement was generally met with applause, enthusiasm and great expectations. The public awaited a similar declaration from the CPP-NPA-NDFP leadership in reciprocation of Mr. Duterte’s bold and grand gesture.

Immediately, Louie Jalandoni, NDFP Chief Negotiator, sent a formal message to his GPH counterpart, Sylvestre Bello III, stating that “the NDFP shared with President Duterte the determination to work for a just and lasting peace…(and that) the NDFP would be able to respond to or reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire declaration of the GRP soon after receiving its full text.” He assured Bello that “the NDFP would study it carefully and make the appropriate response.”
The NDFP was referring to the AFP SOMO (Suspension of Offensive Military Operations) and PNP SOPO (Suspension of Offensive Police Operations) orders that give concrete guidelines on the conduct of the GPH ceasefire. The following day, Jorge Madlos aka Ka Oris, Spokesperson of the NPA National Operational Command issued a statement that the NPA would be on “active defense” while it awaits the CPP and NDFP guidelines on how it will respond to the Duterte declaration.
The AFP issued its SOMO on 26 July while the PNP issued its SOPO only on July 27.  As in previous ceasefires, the SOMO and SOPO categorically stated that civil-military, “peace and development” and law enforcement operations would continue, as well as the “legal offensive” against persons suspected to be key members and leaders of the revolutionary movement. AFP spokespersons emphatically stated that there would no withdrawal of troops to barracks from their offensive operations in NPA-controlled or influenced areas and from their occupation of communities, schools and other civilian establishments.
On July 27, NPA guerrillas ambushed a composite Philippine Army, Citizen Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and Alamara paramilitary group in Kapalong, Davao del Norte killing one and injuring four others.
Speaking before AFP troops in Nakar, Quezon on July 28, Mr. Duterte threatened to cancel government’s unilateral ceasefire if he does not get an explanation before the end of the day on why the NPA ambushed government forces. The NDFP asked for time to investigate the incident.
By 29 July, NPA spokesperson Aris Francisco said that the ambush was in self defense and explained the facts and circumstances of the clash. Another statement from the NPA-Southern Mindanao Region described in detail the AFP and paramilitary deployment and offensive actions especially against lumad communities, clearly showing the AFP was violating and sabotaging President Duterte’s own ceasefire declaration.
Meanwhile, Prof. Sison pointed out in media interviews that the CPP was poised to declare its own unilateral ceasefire by 8pm of 30 July when Mr. Duterte lifted the government’s unilateral ceasefire at 7pm.  As of this writing, the CPP has not announced its unilateral ceasefire.  Mr. Sison nonetheless reiterated that as far as he was concerned the resumption of the peace talks is still a go despite the public recriminations expressed by Mr. Duterte.
It is so unfortunate and so unnecessary that this breakdown in communications between Mr. Duterte and the NDFP has happened.  Originally, the mode of interim ceasefire was to be threshed out at the peace talks resumption.  Mr. Duterte jumped the gun on the NDFP by declaring the government ceasefire at his SONA. That was his call but without the operational details of this ceasefire, it is understandable that the NDFP would ask for time to study it and how to respond.  It would be irresponsible for the CPP-NPA-NDFP to haphazardly call out to its forces to observe a ceasefire without any guidelines or parameters such being contingent on how the government’s ceasefire would be operationalized.
Mr. Duterte eventually gave his view that GPH unilateral ceasefire did not include the pullout of military, police and paramilitary from communities where they had garrisoned especially in areas acknowledged to be part of the revolutionary forces’ mass base. However, the view of the CPP-NPA-NDFP is that without this pullout and ongoing military operations as described in the AFP SOMO, there is the strong likelihood of clashes taking place. Moreover encroachments on areas under CPP-NPA-NDFP influence would go on unabated placing the latter at a clear disadvantage apart from ongoing human rights abuses against the civilian population.
The CPP-NPA-NDFP reported that the AFP was in fact violating their Commander-in-Chief’s unilateral ceasefire declaration in several areas and by means of certain actuations.  Indeed, it was claimed that there was no real ceasefire in the NPA’s Southern Mindanao Region area of operation that covers Davao City, Mr. Duterte’s stronghold.
Mr. Duterte twitted the NDFP for lacking trust in him when he had already professed his sincere willingness to negotiate peace with them. On the part of the NDFP, they are still awaiting progress in the releases of NDFP consultants as a litmus test of Mr. Duterte’s sincerity. Not one has been released and there have been no humanitarian releases either.
What is worrisome for families of political prisoners and human rights advocates are the pronouncements of Mr. Duterte and his Peace Adviser Dureza that the NDFP consultants will only be released on bail so that they may join in the peace talks but that negotiations must be concluded within six months from resumption. Should the talks fail or be terminated earlier, their bail would be revoked and they go back to jail. In the meantime their cases are not scuttled or even archived; these hang like a Damocles sword over their heads.
This view and the conditionalities that the GPH is imposing on the NDFP consultants totally negates the legal and political bases for the release of political prisoners, i.e. they were illegally arrested and in certain cases were manhandled or even tortured; multiple trumped-up criminal cases were filed against them; and they are being vilified as terrorists in order to justify their continuing detention.  In the case of the NDFP consultants, despite avowals of the GPH panel and Mr. Duterte that they will respect and uphold all previous agreements including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), they refuse to acknowledge that the arrests in themselves are violations of JASIG and must be rectified by releasing the consultants forthwith.
The good news is that both the GPH and the NDFP have expressed their desire to hold the formal peace talks this August despite the lifting of the GPH ceasefire, the angry exchange of words, and the continuing AFP and paramilitary operations and killings.
What now hovers as dark clouds that could spell another delay in the resumption of the formal talks is the frustrating and inexplicable snail’s pace with which the GPH undertakes measures to effect the release of detained NDFP consultants slated to participate in the peace negotiations.
Once more the political prisoners are being held hostage to the outcome of the peace negotiations.
Clearly, despite Mr. Duterte’s gung ho posture, hardliners within his government especially the AFP top brass are maneuvering to throw a monkey wrench into the situation to undermine if not derail Mr. Duterte’s peace initiative.  Moreover, the same old thinking and schemes that characterized the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) during the Aquino administration are very much in place; that is, GPH is demanding a ceasefire before anything else, before consultants and other political prisoners are released, and before any negotiations on socio-economic reforms that benefit the people.
Perhaps the hardliners and peace saboteurs are taking advantage of Mr. Duterte’s popularity to gain the upper hand in the propaganda war, to make the NDFP appear as the hold-outs – insincere and unreasonable – as a prelude to launching a new counterinsurgency program under the Duterte regime. #
Published in Business World 
1 August 2016