Ex-GRP negotiator advises resumption of peace talks with NDFP

A former Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace negotiator advised the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. administration to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to help solve many of the government’s problems at once.

In an online interview with journalist Christian Esguerra, veteran GRP peace negotiator Hernani Braganza said a good outcome in the talks would possibly result in a lasting ceasefire with the NDFP.

“This is an unsolicited advice: they resume the peace talks with the NDFP. Because, the first thing that may happen if things turn out well, there will be lasting ceasefire,” Braganza said in Filipino.

Braganza’s advice came after Esguerra asked him about Marcos’ signing of the New Agrarian Emancipation Act last July 7 relieving 610,054 agrarian reform beneficiaries of amortization fees.

Aside from being a formal and “backchannel” government peace negotiator under three successive administrations, Braganza also served as Department of Agrarian Reform secretary under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government.

Branganza said the loan pardon program was actually a NDFP-GRP agreement in 2017 under a more comprehensive free land distribution concord.

“It is in one of our documents, free land distribution. Of course, when we say free, it will be the responsibility of the government for our farmers. It is the same as debt condonation. This was part of the peace talks,” he said.

Braganza said they duly submitted the document to Malacañan Palace and expressed regret that the previous Rodrigo Duterte government did not continue with the negotiations.

“If Presidente Duterte pushed through with the talks, this could have been part of it. It could have helped pacify Filipinos who take up arms,” he said.

Joma’s jest

Braganza said it is up to the Marcos Jr. government to take another look at the peace process if it wants to solve many problems at the same time.

He said it is obvious that poverty, lack of jobs and livelihood as well as opportunities for economic development pushes many Filipinos to join the armed struggle against social injustices.

The veteran peace negotiator added that if the government wishes to address social problems, “[it] might as well put in in a document that could end the armed conflict in a much shorter period.”

“[This,] rather than wait for them to lay down arms. If you can solve this by negotiating, that’s it. That’s the entire idea of it,” he said.

Braganza recalled a jest by the late NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison who told the government negotiators: “You don’t have to talk to us. The government only needs to do its job.”

“Most of all, Mr. Joma Sison, when he was still alive, signed that he will go home to the Philippines if the free land distribution agreement was signed by the GRP,” he said.

From Marcos to Marcos

In response to Esguerra’s question if the current political atmosphere is conducive to the resumption of the peace talks with the NDFP, Braganza said it all depends on a sitting president’s political will.

“Well, first of all, how many million votes did the president get? Thirty-one million. It is bigger than the previous president, so it is a huge political capital,” he said.

Second, the Marcos Jr. government enjoys control over the Senate and the House of Representatives, he cited. “How can you go wrong?” he asked.

Braganza, a student activist during Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s reign, added that it would one of the better legacies of the current Marcos administration to end the armed conflict with the NDFP.

“[B]ecause majority of the problem of insurgency in the Philippines started with the implementation of martial law (by Marcos Sr.).  So, if it started then, because they have the same surnames, wouldn’t it be better if this one ends it?” he asked.

Braganza said it would not be impossible, saying peace tables with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade and the Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army have successfully concluded under previous Manila governments.

“So it could be a good legacy for this administration to end what most of what started during the time of the father. It would be a good closure,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)