GRP-NDFP negotiations on social and economic reforms, release of political prisoners face delay

Oslo, Norway–Negotiations on social and economic reforms (SER) as well as amnesty for political prisoners faced delays prompting the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to conclude their second day of negotiations early.

The parties’ reciprocal working committees for SER adjourned by midday after failing to unify their differing draft outlines while earlier GRP-NDFP panel discussions also failed to agree on the conduct of release of more than 400 political prisoners.

In a press statement, the NDFP said it proposed a SER outline that seeks to address the roots of the armed conflict while the GRP submitted an “outcome-based” outline.

“We have exchanged with the GRP an outline of a comprehensive draft on social and economic reforms that includes agrarian reform, national industrialization, environmental protection, environmental protection, rights of the working people, foreign economic and trade relations, and, monetary and fiscal policies,” Julie de Lima, NDFP reciprocal working committee on socio-economic reform chairperson, said.

The NDFP, however, welcomes GRP’s acceptance of the NDFP draft as the working draft of the discussions on social and economic reforms, De Lima said.

De Lima explained that while both parties agreed to adopt the “preamble and declaration of principles” of the NDFP draft, the GRP requested that further discussions on the bases, scope and applicability portions of the draft be deferred until it can submit a more detailed a nine-point outcome-based outline.

“The main purpose of the peace negotiations is to address the roots of the armed conflict which, among others, includes poverty, landlessness, joblessness, hunger, and inequality. Placing the outcome ahead in an outline of an agreement on social and economic reforms is like putting the cart before the horse,” De Lima said.

The GRP is expected to submit a more detailed draft on the morning of the third day of negotiations.

According to the NDFP, the GRP draft only broadly presents a nine-point outcome that includes poverty eradication, environment and climate justice, globally competitive economy, adequate and quality social services, reduced inequalities, peaceful rural communities, food security, living incomes, and gender equality and representation.

“These issues are all addressed in more detail in the NDFP draft outline,” De Lima said.

No releases since August 27

Both parties also have yet to issue a statement on the status of releases of more political prisoners, particularly the three convicted Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG)-listed NDFP consultants.

Eduardo Sarmiento, Leopoldo Caloza and Emeterio Antalan failed to join the current round of formal peace negotiations despite an earlier promise by GRP President Rodrigo Duterte he will pardon the three consultants.

“There have been no releases since August 27.  The three who have been convicted but should be pardoned have not been released, despite the withdrawal of appeals so the way is clear for presidential clemency,” NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said.

Sison said the GRP explained to the NDFP that it is doing its best and that the draft amnesty proclamation is already with the Office of the President and the Department of Justice.

“(There should be) Immediate compliance with CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law) and rendering of justice.  Kawawa ang mga political prisoners na napakatagal na kinulong sa trumped-up charges of common crimes in violation of the Hernandez Political Offense Doctrine and in violation of CARHRIHL.  And in the case of the JASIG-protected, also in violation of JASIG. In the first place, they should not have been arrested and detained. It is as simple as that,” Sison said.

Sison said the delays on some issues will not necessarily affect the discussions of other items in the agenda.

“Whatever happens to the discussions on amnesty and release of all political prisoners, including the GRP’s desire to have a joint ceasefire (with the NDFP), negotiations on the other issues will continue,” Sison said.

“The NDFP is ready with its draft on the SER. The only thing to do is to arrive at a common outline. Ganyan din sa PCR,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)