STREETWISE by Carol Pagaduan Araullo: No love lost between Duterte and the Left

One need not be such a keen observer of Philippine politics to note the quite dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the Left and President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, self-styled “Leftist” and “socialist” president of the Philippines.

At the beginning, a de facto tactical alliance existed between the two. It was premised on Duterte’s promise that he would bring about a real change in government. For the Left, foremost was the release of all political prisoners, peace talks to arrive at fundamental socioeconomic and political reforms, and an independent foreign policy to reverse decades of US neocolonial domination.

A year later, Duterte has reneged on his promise to amnesty all political prisoners and has practically, if not formally, scuttled the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. He is brandishing what he thinks is a more formidable “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDFP topped by a martial law declaration in Mindanao, targeting what the AFP claims to be the movement’s strongest base of operations.

For the Left, Duterte has emerged as a full-blown reactionary president, a fascist defender of the exploitative and oppressive status quo, while still trying to deceive the people with token, populist measures and an image of being tough against corruption and criminality.

The signal fire, in retrospect, was when Duterte collapsed the 5th round of GRP-NDFP peace talks saying that he would not pursue negotiations unless the CPP-NPA-NDFP entered into an indefinite bilateral cease-fire. Echoing the hawkish line of his security officials, Duterte said talks can not go anywhere if the NPA continues to launch attacks against the AFP and engages in “criminal extortion” or what the CPP-NPA calls “revolutionary taxation.”

But what supposedly got Duterte’s ire was the directive of the CPP leadership to the NPA to intensify its tactical offensives against the military and police upon the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. Glossed over is the fact that no cease-fire was in effect at that time because the Duterte government failed to declare a unilateral cease-fire before the 4th round of talks even though the two sides had earlier agreed upon a simultaneous declaration of unilateral cease-fires.

The preconditioning of the peace talks to an open-ended cease-fire before any bilateral agreement on socioeconomic reforms had been reached not only violates previous agreements that the Duterte government affirmed when it revived talks with the NDFP, bottom line is that the GRP wants the revolutionary movement to agree to its voluntary pacification in exchange for nothing. In effect, to surrender on the negotiating table as a prelude to surrendering in the battle field without achieving any meaningful reforms through a supposedly negotiated political settlement.

It appears that the NDFP Negotiating Panel tried its best to salvage the situation by proposing ways of easing pressure on the Duterte government with the onset of the Marawi crisis.

Unfortunately, Duterte quickly swung rightward. He allowed the militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon to lead the way, not only in dealing with the ISIS-inspired Maute rebellion in Lanao province by aerial and artillery bombardment leading to the destruction of Marawi City, but in pursuing the government’s counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP, this time utilizing the vast powers of martial law in all of Mindanao to tamp down any opposition.

Flush with the imprimatur given by the Supreme Court to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte railroaded its extension until yearend via a pliant Congress. Independent reporting on the continuing devastation of Marawi City and its after effects is virtually impossible with the military controlling all sources of information. Heightened human rights violations in other parts of Mindanao have been swept under the rug.

The direct involvement of the US Armed Forces in the military campaign against the Maute Group has been welcomed and justified by Duterte despite his posture that he is against US intervention in the country’s internal affairs. (Apparently he was only referring to US criticism of his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign).

His anti-US tirades have softened of late and been replaced with friendly meetings with the US ambassador and US Secretary of State; echoing the US line against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and reports of an agreement to allow armed US drones to strike at ISIS and other “terrorist” targets.

Clearly the ISIS “threat” is being overblown as an excuse to prolong martial law and possibly even expand it outside Mindanao. It is also providing the rational for expanding US military presence in the country and steadily growing US military involvement in armed conflicts labelled as “terrorist”.

Duterte’s attempt to appear conciliatory when he addressed the Left-led SONA protest failed to mollify the protesters who persistently chanted their calls for genuine reforms, an end to martial law, and the continuation of peace talks. Duterte was forced to end his pretense at openness and departed in a huff.

Duterte’s speeches have become consistently virulent against not just the revolutionary Left but also political and social activists who are leading the fight for reforms. He threatened to bomb lumad schools that he said were NPA schools. He said he would not hesitate to use violence against militant urban poor if they again tried to occupy abandoned public housing. He rained invectives on activists and said he would not heed their demands even if they resorted to nonstop protest in the streets.

In response, activists are stepping up their opposition to what they now call the “US-Duterte fascist regime.”

What is interesting is that Duterte has not fired three Leftist Cabinet members despite the downward spiral of relations with the Left. For one he has no basis to kick them out except that they are identified with the Left. For another, they are no threat to him; in fact, one might say they are objectively helping to deodorize his regime by just doing their jobs competently and consistent with their pro-people stand.

Neither have the three tendered their resignations to the wonderment of those who tend to think the Left one-track minded and monolithic. Perhaps this is all that remains of what once was a promising alliance between Duterte and the Left. A tenuous bridge for communications before all hell breaks loose.

(This article first appeared in an opinion column of the same title on BusinessWorld. http://bworldonline.com/no-love-lost-between-duterte-and-the-left/

Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.)

carol_araullo@yahoo.com

STREETWISE BY CAROL P. ARAULLO: Unmasking Duterte

These days, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is turning out to be his own worst enemy.

He cannot keep himself from rambling on and on, revealing his bloodlust, megalomania, contempt for objectivity and truth, small-mindedness and bigotry, gullibility for the “intelligence” briefings by the AFP and the propensity for using strong-arm techniques to get his way.

A year ago, at the beginning of Duterte’s presidency, his crassness seemed to be just an idiosyncratic style born of his being an uncouth politician from the boondocks, used to the rough-and-tumble and straight-talking ways of those who are reared in the frontiers of Mindanao.

Many ordinary folk found him engaging, even refreshingly tactless, hence appearing to be honest and sincere.

What was important is that he promised to wipe out the illicit drugs trade in three to six months by means of a bloody “war on drugs”; zero tolerance for graft and corruption; a stop to the practice of “endo” (end-of-contract) that undermined workers’ security of tenure; easing the burden of taxation while spending more on social services for the poor; siding with landless peasants in their fight against the landed oligarchy; an end to the despoilment of the environment through large-scale mining; and to top it all, to release all political prisoners and bring about a negotiated, peaceful settlement of armed conflicts by engaging in peace talks. He also did the unexpected by appointing three avowed Leftists in his Cabinet.

High hopes abounded as well as serious misgivings. The revolutionary and progressive forces on the Left of the political spectrum decided to give Duterte a chance to prove his claims to being the first “Leftist” and “socialist” President.

While long-time mayor of Davao City, traces of his Leftist background surfaced in so far as 1) he acknowledged the CPP-NPA as a political entity born of endemic poverty and oppression; 2) he had a modus vivendi with the CPP-NPA with regard to their de facto existence as a shadow government, including their collection of revolutionary taxes and punitive actions against exploitative and oppressive businesses; 3) he did not consider “all-out war” as the correct or even viable solution to insurgency; 4) he maintained open lines of communication with the CPP-NPA 5) he upheld the human rights of rebels and political activists; 5) he asserted political independence versus US military intrusions in Davao City; 6) he welcomed peace negotiations as a means of resolving armed conflicts by addressing their root causes in unjust socioeconomic and political structures.

A short year later, Duterte is close to fully unfolding towards the Right. Whatever background of activism in his youth has become overwhelmed by the conservatism of his adult years as a politician in the mold of a bureaucrat capitalist until winning the presidency and becoming CEO of the reactionary state.

President Duterte has scuttled peace talks by insisting on an indefinite, bilateral cease-fire even before reaching a comprehensive agreement on socioeconomic reforms (CASER). Duterte not only failed to fulfill his promise to amnesty and release all political prisoners, he continued his regime’s brutal counterinsurgency program including the bombardment of civilian communities suspected to be supportive of the CPP-NPA and the targeted killings of unarmed activists.

He resorts to lies and ad hominem attacks on NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Joma Sison to belittle, insult, and dismiss him as a revolutionary leader. He parrots the worn-out AFP line demonizing the CPP-NPA as terrorists and plain criminals extorting from the people and businesses.

Duterte is in over his head. His conceit is that his overrated stint in Davao City provides him the blueprint for dealing with the complexities of the country’s historical ills. He misrepresents authoritarianism for political will and resort to mass murder and bullying tactics for decisive leadership.

Duterte’s opportunistic alliances with the Marcoses and ex-President Gloria Arroyo, his over dependence on the pro-US, militarist troika of Lorenzana-Año-Esperon and pandering to the AFP and PNP to preempt a coup attempt by his rivals — all these reveal that he is indeed an ultra-reactionary contrary to his self-delusional pose as a “leftist.”

But as a Marcos wannabe, Duterte lacks sophistication. His expressed intention to bomb lumad schools as a counterinsurgency measure makes him vulnerable to charges of genocide and other war crimes. His demagoguery is repetitive and tiresome. His resort to martial law in Mindanao and the destruction of Marawi City to deal with the disastrous Mamasapano-like police operation against Isnilon Hapilon is a testament to his incompetence and brutality as a commander-in-chief.

Duterte’s “war on drugs” is an unmitigated failure. It’s outcome: an unending body count of alleged small-time drug users and dealers, victims of extrajudicial killing by police and touted vigilantes incited on their murderous killing spree by no less than President Duterte. Impunity reigns with Duterte shielding the police establishment that he once described as “rotten to the core” from investigation by the Commission on Human Rights and the Ombudsman. A police official, coincidentally surnamed Marcos, who stands accused of murdering a suspected drug lord while in jail has been reinstated and will soon be eligible for promotion upon the specific instruction of no less than President Duterte.

Duterte’s economic policies and programs have not departed from the failed policies of his predecessors in keeping the economy backward and the majority of the people eking out a precarious existence with no stable sources of livelihood or forced to take their chances working overseas. His resort to dole-outs, including one-time subsidies for higher education, is unsustainable. Social services like housing and health care remain unaffordable, of poor quality and inadequate. Whatever economic growth benefits foreign multinationals, their domestic business partners and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.

Finally, Duterte has maintained his off-and-on diatribe against the US, citing its track record as a brutal colonizer of the Philippines and as an exponent of wars of aggression against sovereign countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. His tirades intensify as criticisms from US quarters of his regime’s bloody war on drugs intensifies and as the US government hedges on the delivery of armaments and other forms of military aid.

But as the US well knows, Duterte is not about to touch any of the lopsided military agreements such as EDCA and the VFA that allows US military presence on Philippine soil and power projection in the Asia Pacific region.

Meanwhile, Duterte’s courtship of China for loans and investments is leading us to debt peonage to a new master and abandonment of our sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

The Duterte regime is headed towards complete unmasking and isolation as anti-people unless it drastically changes course. Unfortunately, there are few signs that this can or will happen. # (First published in BusinessWorld, 31 July 2017 / carol_araullo@yahoo.com)

 

Streetwise by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo: Dealing with Duterte

We have been getting “I-told-you-so” and “why-do-you-still-put-up-with-him” reactions from quite a number of well-meaning people here and abroad after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and withdrew the government negotiating panel form the 5th round of peace talks with the NDFP effectively causing its collapse.

As far as they are concerned, President Duterte and his regime are not so much as “unfolding” but more of “unravelling”. Now a quick explanation on the difference between the two as applied to the Duterte phenomenon and as it is currently being used in the Left’s parlance.

“Unfolding” essentially means Duterte can either turn more to the Left or the Right in so far as his policies and actuations depending on several key factors and developments. “Unravelling” means he is what he is – a conventional/traditional politician who has managed to reach the top of the heap and is now the CEO of the reactionary ruling system – ergo he will inevitably reveal himself as such despite his claim that he is “Leftist” and “socialist”.

The implications of whether one leans to the “unfolding” or the “unravelling” scenario is crucial because it informs one’s attitude towards the Duterte regime and how one deals with him.

After Duterte’s one year in office, it is clear that the national democratic movement in the country – ranging from the revolutionaries waging armed struggle to the political activists leading the struggle for basic reforms in the legal arena – have no illusions about the current regime.

Duterte’s rise to power has not made a dent on the semifeudal, semicolonial character of Philippine. The local oligarchy of big landlords, big comprador and bureaucrat capitalists still lord it over society, tightly controlling the levers of power. The country’s former colonizer, the US of A, still dominates and interferes in all spheres of national life – economic, political and cultural. This despite Duterte’s rant spiced with curses against the US and the oligarchy in general (and some specific ones he just can’t abide), and grand promises of socio-economic reforms to benefit the people.

All the statements coming from the Left of the political spectrum on Duterte’s first year are highly critical and on many policies and programs, even denunciatory – martial law; the Marawi siege; the so-called war on drugs; the counterinsurgency program against the CPP-NPA-NDFP; political repression of peasants, workers and urban poor fighting for their rights; the continuation of anti-people/pro-elite and anti-national/pro-foreign monopoly capitalist economic policies; US military presence and involvement in internal armed conflicts; persistence of corruption, bad governance, patronage politics and impunity for grievous human rights violations.

But still the Left is giving Duterte some benefit of the doubt mainly because of two major policy changes – the resumption of peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP and the appointment of their nominees in three Cabinet positions. This is what is being referred to as significant and concrete evidence of the “unfolding”.

To some this would appear to be self-serving but in reality, there is sound basis for giving weight to these hallmark decisions of President Duterte. If the peace negotiations are to be pursued by both sides in earnest in order to address the underlying roots of armed conflict and thereby arrive at a negotiated settlement on the basis of fundamental socio-economic and political reforms, then we are looking at the dawning of the just and lasting peace our people have been longing for.

In the same vein, the appointment of outstanding and competent leaders from the Left in the Duterte Cabinet is an unprecedented move that is in tandem with his peace initiative. It is a grand confidence-building measure that gives credence to his idea of “inclusivity” in his government. Moreover, given the integrity, commitment and hard work the three Cabinet officials have consistently demonstrated in the last year – they are a boost to the Duterte regime in more ways than one.

Too bad the GRP-NDFP peace talks have been subjected to a lot of delays and now, a major impasse, because of the countervailing pressure of the right-wingers – pro-US militarists and rabid anti-communists – whose idea of the peace negotiations is providing a graceful exit for the surrender and cooptation of the revolutionary movement but without conceding any significant socio-economic and political reforms.

This has translated into the insistence on putting the cart before the horse; that is, getting the NDFP to agree to an interim, bilateral, open-ended ceasefire ahead of inking the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR).

The GRP insists that a bilateral ceasefire complete with terms of reference as to buffer zones, what constitute violations, third party monitoring, etc makes for an “enabling environment” for the peace talks. This goes along with the notion propagated in the mass media by the GRP and so-called peace advocates that ceasefires are sine qua non to peace negotiations between two warring parties.

The NDFP for its part will only enter into a bilateral ceasefire, even an interim one preceding a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF), when the CASER is signed and all political prisoners are released in accord with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

The NDFP sees a premature bilateral ceasefire as anathema to the objective of achieving a just peace. They anticipate that the GRP will lose all interest in negotiating, much less implementing, CASER and CAPCR once it gets a bilateral ceasefire. The revolutionary forces are admittedly on the strategic defensive because of the huge disparity between the strength of the Armed Forces of the Philippines versus the New People’s Army. A bilateral ceasefire would put it on the tactical defensive as well, tying the NPA’s hands in terms of defending territory under its shadow governance and protecting the gains of its revolutionary programs in the countryside.

The CPP-NPA-NDFP knows from experience that the GRP will not cease its counterinsurgency operations that wreak havoc on peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities even when short-term, unilateral simultaneous ceasefires are in place as in the 5-month period spanning the resumption up till the third round of peace talks.

Too bad as well that the confirmation of the progressive Cabinet officials, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano and Social Work Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, hang in the balance certainly not because of any charges of corruption, incompetence or partiality but because Duterte’s enlightened policy in dealing with the Left is steadily being undermined as he swings to the Right.

Meanwhile, the Left as a whole is not passively watching Duterte and events unfold. The task of exposing and opposing the anti-people policies of his regime is firmly being carried out. All forms of struggle – armed and unarmed – are being pursued in order to defend and uphold the people’s rights and welfare. Through the peace talks, the progressives in the Duterte Cabinet and most especially the democratic movement of peasants, workers, urban poor and the middle forces in society, the Left continues to engage – unite and struggle as the case may be – the Duterte regime.

It is a complex, difficult and often dangerous approach but must be done if the Left is to seize and maximize all openings for pushing truly meaningful change in this country, with or without Rodrigo Roa Duterte. # (First published in Business World, 3 July 2017)

 

STREETWISE: High stakes confirmation hearing

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
On Wednesday 3 progressive cabinet members — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, Social Welfare Secrtary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano — are up for confirmation by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).
They have been twice bypassed by the CA and subsequently twice reappointed in the interim by President Rodrigo Duterte. But because the current CA has approved a rule that a cabinet member may only be bypassed three times after which the CA will have to reject or confirm the concerned official, it appears that Wednesday will be the final showdown.
The backstory to this is very interesting if only because it is so unusual.  Newly elected President Duterte surprised everyone when, even before he was sworn to office, he offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four Cabinet positions.
Pres. Duterte said the four departments he offered to the CPP – Labor, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, and Environment and Natural Resources – dealt with the “most oppressed” and that the Left was known to be “the most vigilant” when it comes to pressing national issues. He also related his offer to restarting peace talks with the revolutionary movement under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front of the Philipiines (NDFP).
In response, NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the offer but said the CPP could not accept any position not until the peace negotiations had reached the point of a comprehensive peace settlement. In the meantime, Sison said the NDFP could nominate people who are patriotic, progressive, competent, honest, and diligent but not necessarily communists.
Upon the NDFP’s recommendation, Pres. Duterte appointed University of the Philippines Professor and former political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Long-time peasant leader and former Anakpawis Party List representative Rafael Mariano became secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The labor portfolio eventually went to former Justice Secretary Sylvestre Bello III, concurrent head of the government peace panel negotiating with the NDFP, while that of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) went to Gina Lopez, a known environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business clan.
The appointment of Leftists and social activists, including former Gabriela Party List prepresentative Liza Maza to the National Anti-poverty Commission, lent credence to President Duterte’s avowal that he too was a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as this became fodder for accusations of his political enemies that the Duterte administration had betrayed the country to the communists.
Policy differences surfaced when the burial of the so-called remains of the Dictator Marcos was allowed by President Duterte at the Libingan ng mga Bayani setting off a torrent of mass protests wherein victims of martial rule and anti-dictatorship activists from the Left figured prominently.  Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza stood their ground in opposition to the Marcos burial but asserted that this was not sufficient basis for them to resign their posts.
While snide remarks surfaced in social media intimating that the three had sold their souls to the devil, these accusations of cooptation did not gain much traction.  The three have proven to be one of the most hardworking, competent, and upright in the Duterte Cabinet.  They have navigated the perilous course of holding top government positions and being subjected  to myriad pressures and enticements while remaining true to their Leftist principles and continuing to serve their “most oppressed” constituents.
The lines began to be drawn for Sec. Taguiwalo during the budget hearings last year.  Many congresspersons, not least of which were those in the leadership of the House of Representatives, objected to and resented the attempts of the DSWD to ensure that the department’s beneficiaries are those truly in need and not merely “lucky” recipients of patronage politics. A compromise was eventually hammered out: congresspersons’ recommendations would be taken into account and given weight by the DSWD even as the set of qualifications specified by the agency would prevail.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The “honorable” congresspersons wanted ironclad assurances from Sec. Taguiwalo that certain funds they had earmarked for the DSWD would only be spent in their districts in accord with their wishes.  In other words the old pork barrel system was alive and well albeit disguised as an informal arrangement between the head of agency and the “honorable” congresspersons. When Taguiwalo refused to play along, her confirmation in the CA was placed in jeopardy.
As for DAR Secretary Mariano, one of his orders that raised the hackles of his fellow Cabinet members particularly the economic managers, was the DAR proposal for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano wanted to put the breaks on rampant conversion of farmlands for residential, industrial, commercial or mixed-use purposes. Not only has land use conversion been a tried-and-tested way to go around land reform, it has even been used to cover up landgrabbing itself.  But apart from frustrating the ends of social justice as envisioned by a series of failed land reform programs, this proposed moratorium is in line with ensuring the country’s food security what with the rapidly shrinking agricultural land devoted to food production.
Needless to say, the big landowners in the country especially the owners of sprawling haciendas and corporate farms are literally up in arms over Secretary Mariano’s unflinching support for the right of the tillers of the land – tenants and farm workers – to own their own plots of land.  Recent attempts of DAR to install agrarian reform beneficiaries in land awarded but forcibly taken from them have met with armed resistance from private security guards and hired goons. In some instances, the police have averred that they cannot help DAR enforce its orders because they are outnumbered and outfirepowered by private security forces.
DENR Secretary Lopez’ decision last February to close 23 mines and suspend five others for breaching environmental standards together with the cancellation of 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds constituted a declaration of war against large-scale corporate mining in the country.  For this the country’s mining firms banded together to not only oppose her confirmation, but to file corruption charges against her before the Ombudsman.
Too bad Lopez’ anti-mining stance is popular among a public reminded of the horrendous toll on the environment and affected communities from mining accidents and the over-all destructive effects of large-scale mining operations. Moreover her boss, President Duterte, has continued to back her.
For its part, the NDFP recently stated that it views “in very positive terms the presence of (the three) in the Duterte cabinet”.  Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair said, “Ka Paeng will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants. Ka Judy will likewise play an important role in implementing expanded social services for the people. Gina Lopez meanwhile has expressed willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations. They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP.”
The stakes are truly high in the confirmation hearing of the three officials on Wednesday. Will the people’s clamor for meaningful reforms be dealt another serious blow by reactionary interests through their front men in the Commission on Appointments? #
Published in Business World
1 May 2017

STREETWISE: 4TH round of GRP-NDFP peace talks defy spoilers

By Carol P. Araullo

The fourth round of formal peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) got off to a halting start last April 3, a full day after the scheduled formal opening. For a while, it was unclear whether the talks would open at all or just fizzle out unceremoniously leaving both sides frustratingly empty handed.

In truth, dark clouds remained despite the breakthrough achieved in the March 10-11 informal talks wherein the two sides agreed that the fourth round would resume in The Netherlands and that the simultaneous unilateral ceasefires of the two Parties would be reinstated.

For one, the GRP did not declare anew its unilateral ceasefire in contravention of the GRP-NDFP March 11 Joint Statement. This prompted the NDFP to withhold its own unilateral ceasefire despite a public announcement that it would declare one before the beginning of the fourth round.

Consequently, the GRP principal, President Rodrigo Duterte, announced four conditions for the GRP’s returning to the talks with the NDFP: 1) a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement; 2) that the revolutionary movement desist from claiming any territory; 3) a stop to the collection of “revolutionary taxes”; 4) release of all the soldiers, policemen and others held captive by the New People’s Army (NPA).

A few days before the formal talks, Defense Secretary Lorenzana issued a vitriolic statement labelling the CPP-NPA-NDFP as “terrorists” and declaring ex cathedra (“With the full authority of office”—Ed.) that the talks would not happen unless the NPA complies with Duterte’s conditions.

Only after getting a firm assurance from the NDFP peace panel that an interim joint ceasefire agreement would be in the agenda of the formal talks did Mr. Duterte give the definitive green light to the formal opening. The matter of ceasefire became the de facto primary item on the agenda of the fourth round. An inordinate amount of time and shuttling back and forth between the two sides eventually produced the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire.

What does the agreement amount to? For one, it does not mean that a bilateral ceasefire is already in place. It does not even mandate the two Parties to declare the restoration of their respective unilateral ceasefires. It does however bind them “(to) direct their respective Ceasefire Committees to meet even in-between formal talks to discuss, formulate and finalize the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of this agreement.”

In other words, the Parties agree to forge the interim joint ceasefire in the near future by hammering out the ground rules and guidelines governing the aforesaid ceasefire. But while it is not explicitly stated, the NDFP has made it exceedingly clear that such a bilateral ceasefire can only be signed consequent to or simultaneous with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms (CASER). Otherwise, the NDFP fears, with due cause, that the GRP will no longer be impelled to address the root causes of the armed conflict with needed social, economic and political reforms.

As of today, sans a return to the simultaneous unilateral ceasefires, the mode is “talking while fighting”.
But once in place, the interim joint ceasefire is a prospective advance on the previous five-month unilateral ceasefires declared by the two sides. The latter are by nature generally more unstable because of the absence of bilaterally agreed terms of reference like buffer zones and zones of safety, hostile acts and the like; that is, each side can set the parameters for a unilateral ceasefire according to its own political and military imperatives thereby blunting or forestalling possible complaints of violations of the ceasefire.

Concretely, while armed clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the NPA went down drastically, the AFP continued to militarize the countryside. The AFP set up encampments in schools and other civilian infrastructure in the barrios; conducted intelligence and psywar (psychological warfare) operations disguised as “peace and development” operations including anti-illicit drugs and other anti-crime operations; provided security for big mining operations and plantations; as well as penetrated deep into territory where the NPA forces have established a shadow form of government.

The interim joint ceasefire agreement is different from and “shall be effective until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged as part of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (Final Peace Agreement).” It should therefore not be mistaken for the end point of the peace negotiations.

What of the matter of claimed NDFP territory and revolutionary taxation that President Duterte so roundly denounced as unacceptable? With much flexibility and skillful language engineering by the negotiating panels, the sticky points were relegated for discussion and resolution to negotiations on political and constitutional reforms as “matters of a single governmental authority and taxation” and “within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines”.

All in all the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-economic Reforms (RWC-SER) met and held discussions bilaterally for only a total of some six to seven hours during the four-day formal talks. As validated by unofficial explanations from the GRP side, negotiations on CASER could not substantially proceed whilst an agreement on a joint ceasefire had not been signed. In a manner of speaking, the talks on CASER were effectively preconditioned and held hostage to the inking of a ceasefire agreement acceptable to Mr. Duterte.

Having said that, it is noteworthy that the Parties “firmed up their agreement on distribution of land for free as the basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.” This achievement is a solidification of the breakthrough reached in the third round of talks in Rome. It was overshadowed and almost went unnoticed due to the resumption of armed hostilities between the AFP and NPA almost immediately with Mr. Duterte’s declaration of “all-out war” against the CPP-NPA-NDF.

They also agreed to speed up the pace of exchanging drafts, identifying contentious points and proposing formulations that are deemed to be acceptable to both Parties. In this regard, bilateral teams under the supervision of their respective RWC-SER are to meet in between formal talks prioritizing Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD) and National Industrialization and Economic Development (NIED). A work schedule was approved in sync with the fifth round of talks slated to take place once more in The Netherlands from May 26 to June 2.

If one were to assess simply and forthrightly what was achieved in the fourth round of talks, it is this: that the GRP-NDFP peace talks have been brought back on track and successfully concluded with positive outcomes despite all the efforts of peace spoilers to sabotage and torpedo them.

As much as the GRP and NDFP panels and their principals, the RNG Third Party Facilitator deserves credit for having exerted extra effort to help bring the Parties back to the negotiating table.

Royal Norwegian Government Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slattum succinctly put it in her opening statement, that the fourth round pushed through as agreed upon last January shows the Parties’ determination and capacity to surmount obstacles, break the short impasse in February and March and move the peace process forward. #
First published in BusinessWorld
10 April 2017

OPINION: Writing as contribution to just and lasting peace

By Carol P. Araullo, Independent Cooperator to the NDFP Negotiating Panel

Response to “Contra en punto” written by Edwin G. Espejo, in reaction to my 17 October 2016 Business World column “Streetwise – Thorny issues emerge in Oslo peace talks

IT IS UNFORTUNATE that Mr. Edwin G. Espejo, a member of the GRP Peace Panel Communications Group, chose to write a riposte to my opinion piece by selecting certain parts which he rebuts rather than crafting a piece to give his or the GRP’s take on the second round of GRP-NDFP peace talks held last October 6 to 9.

Mr. Espejo may have an exaggerated estimate of the reach and influence of my column such that he had to write his attempt at a “contra en punto”.  Since Rappler has given Mr. Espejo the space to ventilate his views specifically geared to counter and debunk my column, I am compelled to respond.

I wish to put on record why I write about the peace talks and what guidelines I follow to keep my commentaries fair, that these do not run counter to the written agreements, and are contributory to the goal of reaching a just and lasting peace.

I am acutely aware of the need to give due respect to the prerogatives of the respective peace panels and the need for a media embargo on what transpires while each round of talks are ongoing. In fact, whatever I write during the actual talks is generally on positive developments or merely to describe the atmosphere without going into detail on contentious points. (The title of my column published 10 October, a day after the close of the formal round of talks, is “Second round of peace talks on track”.)

It is another matter once the round of talks is concluded.  I strive to give my readers, especially those who are not able to observe and participate directly in the peace talks, an insight into how the talks are proceeding. It stands to reason that I will include points of contention. It would be a disservice to keep painting a rosy picture when the differences between the two Parties become more sharply delineated as the talks proceed to the substantive agenda.

I am a nationalist and democrat, a political and social activist, an unabashed Leftist. I have never hidden the fact that my politics are aligned with those of the NDFP.

Having said that, I am also an advocate of a just and lasting peace and of giving the venue of peace negotiations a chance to resolve the roots of armed conflict. I see no inherent conflict between the two.

I have thus been a critic of the completely obstructionist and reactionary viewpoint of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process under Sec. Teresita Deles and the GRP Peace Panel under Atty. Alex Padilla during the Aquino III administration.  On the other hand, I have welcomed and supported the Duterte administration’s bold initiatives in resuming the formal peace talks with the NDFP as well as with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Movement.

Mr. Espejo accuses me of impropriety for allegedly “hurl(ing) some serious issues and criticisms against the government panel…(a)nd in the same breadth (sic) heap(ing) all praises to the NDFP.” I urge the reader to take the time to read my entire opinion piece Thorny issues emerge in Oslo Peace Talks and judge for herself if the accusation has any basis. I contend that the article is objective and fair without pretending to be neutral.

Mr. Espejo appears to be defensive about my observation that “(o)n top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER.”

This observation however is based on fact that is verifiable. As I wrote, the GRP RWC-SER “did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP”.

Mr Espejo’s attempt to explain away this glaring contrast between the two Parties’ preparedness to negotiate on major socio-economic reforms is quite lame. He advances the theory that “the GRP panel are there to receive proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.”  He concludes illogically that the GRP panel is “not duty bound to present its own…”

He quickly acknowledges however that “the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms”.  What he conveniently omits is that several weeks before the second round of talks, the agreement was that there would be an exchange of each side’s respective draft outline and framework. Up until the second round of talks, the GRP RWC-SER had a half page listing of topics while the NDFP submitted a 16-page draft framework and outline.

Mr. Espejo notes, “The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just gestures of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity.”

Let me just inform the reader that those individuals in the NDFP delegation numbering about 60 vs the GRP’s 50 were mainly consultants and resource persons for the NDFP RWC-SER who had been working the week before to finalize and fine tune what the NDFP would present at the 2nd round.  They had also been working on overdrive to finish the NDFP 3rd draft Comprehensive Agreement on SER, giving it more flesh, updating and fine tuning it from the 1998, 2001 and 2004 drafts all of which where made available to the GRP panel and to the public even as the talks had been embroiled in numerous impasses.

Also for the record, the release of the 18 NDFP consultants was a result of hard work by the two sides, the NDFP invoking the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that the Duterte-appointed GRP Peace Panel accepted as valid and binding. The herculean efforts of the NDFP consultants’ lawyers, human rights advocates and an entire slew of supporters here and abroad who kept up the pressure for their release in the name of justice and the peace talks were key.  The NDFP consultants were not, as Mr. Espejo simplistically puts it, “released on bail upon the insistence of the government.”

Mr. Espejo questions my writing an analysis of the ongoing GRP-NDFP peace talks since I am part of the NDFP delegation. Again let me be clear that the NDFP delegation includes resource persons such as myself and many consultants who are not necessarily organic to the NDFP.

As far as I know, the NDFP (and for that matter, the GRP) has not imposed a gag rule on any and all members of the NDFP delegation.  It is up to the individual to exercise responsibility, fairness, objectivity and restraint as is warranted to keep the peace talks going on a productive track.  The text of the bilateral statements and agreements are an objective basis for testing the veracity of any analyses or opinion pieces that anyone may choose to write.

I assume that Mr. Espejo, who is part of the GRP “communications group”, is not writing for himself alone but in behalf of his bosses.  In fact he keeps making reference to “minutes” of the peace negotiations citing them as basis for his “contra en punto”.  In this respect, Mr. Espejo appears to have quite an advantage in being able to cite purported official minutes. He again conveniently omits that he is citing GRP minutes and interpreting them to bolster his arguments that are presumably being made to “communicate” the GRP views and propaganda line.

Lastly, I call the attention of readers to two news reports that show even while the talks were ongoing (in fact, as early as Oct 8)  both the GRP and NDFP panels had issued statements to the media regarding the progress and lack of it with regard to CASER, amnesty and ceasefire. It also appears that it was the GRP who first made public its criticism of or displeasure at the NDFP’s position vis-a-vis said agenda items. <PH-NDF talks hit snags, camps committed> and <Govt-NDFP agree on framework for socio-economic reform>

Thus news reports, mostly citing GRP and NDFP panel members and consultants had already mentioned and described in detail what I later wrote about in my column. Mr. Espejo now vehemently protests, as though I am the first to divulge and comment on what transpired in the second round of talks.

Why did Mr. Espejo, and for that matter OPAPP, not protest these earlier statements and news reports? Could it be because it was the GRP who “drew first blood” so to speak, and that the NDFP was merely issuing rejoinders to clarify?

I seriously urge Mr. Espejo to write a separate opinion article where he will have full leeway to expound on the GRP positions as befits his job description. #

 

STREETWISE by Carol P Araullo: Pavlovian Reflex

It was shockingly painful to watch the video footage of a police van mowing down protesting indigenous and Moro people in front of the US embassy last Wednesday.  The rabid zeal and brutally with which the police used their might to inflict injury on anyone they could lay their hands on and arrest as many as they could (including those already hurt and the First Aid team of doctors and nurses attempting to attend to the wounded) was all too familiar yet still disturbing if not revolting.

Another case of police over zealousness in protecting the US embassy? The usual small, unruly crowd of youth activists getting out of hand and requiring more stringent and forceful police crowd management? In fact, no.

The demonstrators easily numbered more than a thousand composed of the different tribes of Lumad and Moros from Mindanao, Igorots from the Cordillera, Dumagats from Southern Tagalog, Aetas from Central Luzon and even Tumandok from Panay.  They were joined by a smaller number of supporters from Metro Manila coming from different sectors including students, workers and urban poor.

They caught the police contingent providing perimeter security for the embassy by surprise and were able to maneuver to get as close to the embassy walls as possible, of course with a lot of shoving and shouting.  They painted the pristine walls red with slogans such as “Go Duterte! Junk EDCA!” and “Yankee go home!”

When the dust had settled, the police, some of them splattered with red paint, resigned themselves to the situation and allowed the demonstrators to hold their almost 2-hour long program in peace.

As the protesters wound up their program of speeches and cultural numbers, a certain Col. Pedroza arrived.  He berated his men for allowing the demonstrators to get the better of them without putting up a fight and allowing him to lose face with US embassy officials.  He then ordered a completely unwarranted violent dispersal of the protest action that was already about to end without further incident.

Several questions have come to fore as culled from social media.  The standard one, “Weren’t the demonstrators asking for it?  Didn’t they ‘provoke’ the police?”  From many witnesses and raw video footages, it is clear that the initial confrontation occurred when the demonstrators asserted their right to bring their message to the very threshold of the embassy.  They succeeded to do so by overpowering the police phalanx with their sheer size and militance.

Immediately they were able to splash red paint on the US embassy seal and paint their slogans on the embassy walls as an expression of rage and protest at the Almighty US of A — self-appointed global policeman and number one instigator of wars of aggression and intervention worldwide — again despite the efforts of the police to prevent them.

Having done so and entrenching their ranks in front of the embassy, the demonstrators quieted down and held their protest program. The police too settled down, held their peace and watched the demonstrators from where they had ensconced.

So what had “provoked” the police was the order of their commander to unleash their maximum intolerance for citizens exercising their right to air their grievances so that US embassy officials could be reassured the police were doing their job.  The Pavlovian reflex took over the police forces, having been oriented, trained, equipped and constantly sicced on protesting citizens to protect the status quo, the oligarchy and their foreign overlords.  The real nature of the PNP as protector of the neocolonial state, especially its power centers like Malacañang and the US embassy, was on full display.

But aren’t the police under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte even faintly aware that their Commander-in-Chief is no longer the unmitigated “Amboy” (American Boy) that all previous presidents since so-called independence have been? At the rate Duterte has been raining expletives on the mighty USA, including its President and the US State Department, while elucidating his concept of an independent foreign policy, more mass protests at the embassy should and could have been anticipated and police response adjusted accordingly.

Unfortunately, the puppet and fascist character of the PNP is so ingrained, it will take a major and determined overhaul to change it.  (It doesn’t help that the PNP is getting carte blanche in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs where abuse of power, extrajudicial short cuts, corruption and impunity are still very much in evidence.)

But there are netizens who are alternately perplexed and aghast why there were indigenous people and Moros demonstrating against US imperialism at the embassy.  Was that their issue? Weren’t their legitimate issues about defending their ancestral lands from interlopers or even the killings traced to paramilitary units and even military forces themselves.  Shouldn’t they be at the DENR protesting corporate mining or at the AFP camps calling for en end to militarization.  Why the US embassy? (They, in fact, had already been to the DENR and Camp Aguinaldo military camp.)

There were even some who imputed that the Left, perennial protestors at the US embassy, had hoodwinked and somehow manipulated the contingents of national minorities to do their bidding and “riot” at the US embassy.

They who had trekked thousands of miles from north to south of the archipelago in what they had dubbed “Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan” (Journey of National Minorities for Self-determination and a Just Peace) were presumed too politically naive and shallow to grasp how US imperialism affects them and so they had to be “tricked” to protest at the US embassy.

Wrong.  Contrary to the common city goers’ misconception, the lumad for one have educated themselves, primarily by their own efforts, setting up at least 146 schools in various communities all over Mindanao.  These schools have been targets of brutal attacks by the military mainly because they have effectively equipped the lumad with the tools to study and understand their situation and to fight for their rights.

Speaker after speaker from among their ranks have clearly articulated the relationship between the encroachments on their lands by multinational mining companies and agribusinesses, the plunder of natural resources and wanton destruction of the environment, and the grievous violations of their rights to US imperialism and its strongest tentacles among the AFP and PNP.

They spoke of the US-patterned, instigated, funded and directed counter-insurgency programs, including the latest Oplan Bayanihan, as behind the militarization of their communities, the divide-and-rule tactic of arming paramilitaries recruited from among them to do the dirty work of terrorizing their communities in order to drive them away from their communal lands so that the foreign corporate interests and their domestic partners could take over.

The indigenous peoples and Moros have the historical and practical experience of struggling against colonial subjugation and neocolonial oppression and exploitation.  Thus they have sharpened their understanding of the root causes of their abject condition and what they must do to regain their dignity as a people, to exercise their right to self-determination and to live their lives under the ascendance of a just peace. #

(Featured image by Amel Sabangan/Kodao Productions)

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STREETWISE: Out of a quagmire

Streetwise
by  Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Out of a quagmire
After more than half a decade of impasse, the resumption of formal peace talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the revolutionary National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) last August 22-26 in Oslo, Norway is without a doubt a major, major breakthrough.
This historically significant development has taken place in the first 60 days of the new Duterte Administration. The initial round of talks has covered so much ground that had hitherto seemed impossible to achieve, if the obstructionist officials of the preceding Aquino administration were to be believed.
Even the weather during the talks was propitious. The sunny warmth of the Viking summer combined with the cool, crisp air in the mornings and late afternoons provided just the right clime for a very productive first formal meeting between the two Parties.
Spontaneity, warmth and camaraderie were on display from start to finish of the five-day talks. After all, most of the members of the GRP panel and even the Presidential Peace Adviser Sec. Jesus Dureza are old hands in the peace negotiations, particularly during the Ramos administration that saw 10 agreements sealed. The composition of the NDFP panel has been maintained and Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Ma. SIson continues to provide incomparable strategic and tactical guidance.  On a personal level, they are old friends or friends of old friends.
But more significantly, the release of 21 political prisoners, 19 of them NDFP peace consultants, and the prior agreement in informal talks last June 14 to 15 to cover the following five-point agenda 1) reaffirmation of previous agreements; 2) reconstitution of the JASIG list; 3) acceleration of peace negotiations; 4) amnesty; and 5) ceasefire has served to qualitatively raise the level of trust and confidence between the two sides.
I can’t help comparing the atmosphere this time around with that during the resumption of the peace talks in the dead of winter in Oslo, Norway in February 2011, during the administration of Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III. Witnessing the seeming collegiality, the nonbelligerent tone and the declarations of commitment from both sides to forge ahead with the substantive agenda of the negotiations, I wrote a political commentary to mark the occasion and titled it “Thaw in the Winter Freeze”.
Alas, the thaw was fleeting. The upbeat sound bytes in the opening statements of GRP peace adviser Teresita Deles and Chief Negotiator Atty. Alex Padilla were followed by crass attempts to set aside previous bilateral agreements while pushing the NDFP to declare an indefinite ceasefire whilst no concrete results had yet resulted from the talks to warrant it.
The release of NDFP consultants covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) was conditioned by the GRP on the “verification” of a list submitted by the NDFP and kept in the safekeeping of a Third Party Depositary agreed upon by the Parties.  When this encrypted digital list could not be opened due to corrupted keys resulting from the raid by the Dutch government on the office and residences of NDFP officials in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the GRP refused to reconstitute the list and unilaterally declared the JASIG “inoperative”.
The agreed upon “acceleration” of the meetings of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Socio-Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) and the Reciprocal Working Groups on Political and Constitutional Reforms (RWGs-PCR) as well as the RWGs on End of Hostilities/Disposition of Forces (EOF/DOF) ground to a halt.
The GRP also refused to have meetings of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed in 1998 during the Estrada administration. GRP Negotiatior Padilla derisively called CARHRIHL a “propaganda document” of the NDFP.
While back channeling continued to try to revive the talks, with all sorts of creative formulas and even involving special presidential emissaries outside of the hardliners Deles and Padilla, nothing of significance happened.  Mr. Padilla even had the temerity to falsely claim to the Supreme Court that the peace negotiations had collapsed and therefore the conditional bail granted to NDFP consultants Satur Ocampo, Vic Ladlad, Randall Echaniz and Rafeal Baylosis should be cancelled forthwith meaning they should be sent back to jail.
The Aquino III regime raised the GRP’s viciousness & treachery a notch higher when it caused the unprecedented conviction of three JASIG-protected consultants in succession. Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan & Leopoldo Caloza are now languishing in the New Bilibid Prison Maximum Security Compound, all on the basis of fabricated criminal offenses.
In light of the quickened pace in resuming the peace talks during the current Duterte administration and the substantial progress already made, it has become all the more clear that the seemingly insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of the negotiations originated from President Aquino himself.  Mr. Aquino was not interested in nor committed to – and by and large not even closely monitoring – the progress, or rather, non-progress of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. It appears now that he couldn’t care less.
As the visiting Norwegian special envoy to the Columbian peace process insightfully put it, the GRP-NDFP negotiations would have to wait for a new GRP leadership willing to resume the talks. And the new GRP leadership, to be quite honest about it, is indeed the decisive element that has jumpstarted the peace talks.
Which is not to say everything will be smooth sailing from hereon.
The negotiations over socio-economic reforms covers the NDFP demand that land monopoly by the elite be decisively ended in light of the series of failed, bogus land reform programs since the fifties.  Land reform advocates have always asserted that this is not just a matter of social justice for generations of landless peasants mired in rural poverty and backwardness, but of bringing about a industrial and self-reliant domestic economy attuned to the needs of the burgeoning population.  We cannot build a modern economy on the back of a feudal system of land ownership.
The NDFP also calls for a stop to the denationalization of the economy, the ongoing plunder of remaining natural resources and the destruction of the already fragile Philippine ecosystem as a consequence of the unbridled operations of multinational corporations and their domestic business partners.  With regard to economic policies, the NDFP is staunchly against the neoliberal economic policy framework of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.  It regards these policies as having deepened and worsened the retrograde character and maldevelopment of the national economy. It has also relegated the majority of Filipinos to the sorry lot of having to seek decent jobs abroad only to face exploitation, abuse and uncertainty and the prospect of returning to an even bleaker future back home.
Considering that the core interests of very powerful forces within and outside the GRP government (and even those of foreign imperialist powers) are going to be the subject of hard bargaining, the outlook for the negotiations, while bright is not automatically going to be rosy.
Nonetheless there is cause for celebration with the peace negotiations now out of a quagmire. With the support of our people, there is more than a glimmer of hope that the peace talks can be brought to a successful conclusion despite seemingly overwhelming odds and a still rocky road ahead. #
Published by Business World
12 September 2016

STREETWISE: History in the making

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
History in the making
The past weeks have been a roller coaster ride for many of us – human rights activists working hard for the release of political prisoners, the political prisoners themselves and their loved ones, peace advocates mobilizing public support for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philipines (NDFP) and no doubt even the two negotiating panels.
Will the first batch of political prisoners, 22 consultants of the NDFP peace panel, be released in time for the start of the formal peace talks this 22 August?  Or will the talks be postponed once more to give time for their release repeatedly hamstrung by legal requisites and bureaucratic delay?
Will the exchange of harsh words between President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his erstwhile professor, founding chairperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines and now NDFP Chief Political Consultant, Jose Maria Sison, escalate further and jeopardize the peace talks? Or will their political maturity and commitment to a higher good rule the day?
A week ago, while monsoon rains lashed the country, the political storm clouds began lifting. President Duterte invited NDFP political and legal consultants to the Palace along with the GRP panel. What ensued was described by the NDFP consultants as light, cordial, humor-laden and a breakthrough for the political prisoners’ release with direct, unequivocal instructions from the president to speed things up. He also repeated his previously stated stand against the filing trumped-up criminal cases against Leftist leaders and members as the previous administrations of Arroyo and Aquino III were wont to do.
The grant of bail for the NDFP consultants and two others (for humanitarian reasons), the release orders, the passports and visas and the allow departure orders soon followed one after the other.  Not fast enough for those pining for their loved one’s release and the human rights activists who were burning both ends of the candle to fulfill all the legal paperwork and requirements.  And a bit too close to call for the Oslo talks just days away.
But in the end, it was well worth it. The beaming smiles, teary eyes, clenched fists, hearty handshakes, tight hugs and never-ending group photos attest to the outpouring of relief and joy at the first round of releases of political prisoners.  The NDFP perceives this to be in the spirit of what President Duterte promised to NDFP emissaries even before he was inaugurated; that he would declare a general amnesty for thus unjustly incarcerated for their political beliefs, subject to the concurrence of Congress, in order to lay the ground for successful talks and the final resolution of the four decades-long armed conflict between government and the revolutionary movement.
The releases augur well for the peace talks, a qualitative leap in confidence-building that was soon reciprocated with the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the CPP-NPA-NDFP to take effect a day before and a day after the first round of formal peace talks in Oslo, Norway. As we write, Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, has announced that President Duterte has restored the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire as well starting midnight of August 21 “to last as long as necessary to bring peace to the land”.
In truth, we have not seen such a public display of happiness, optimism and determination to work towards the goal of a just and lasting peace as now.
Good will, hard work, imagination, cooperation and creative language engineering will be required from both sides as they keep their focus on the immediate objective of success in the first round of formal talks as well as the long-term goal of inking bilateral agreements on the remaining substantive agenda: economic and social reforms; political and constitutional reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
From experience, there will be unavoidable and avoidable complications, intended and unintended distractions, compounded by miscommunications and missteps.  Each side will be faced with the huge challenge of forging ahead while avoiding pitfalls, especially coming at loggerheads on major and even minor issues that could develop into an extended impasse.
Each side will be constantly under pressure by public opinion and their respective constituencies to try to be as accommodating as possible on the negotiating table while being firm on principle, as each side sees it.   They must appreciate the objective constraints and even the subjective limitations of each side while working towards reaching agreements that will stand the test of the people’s judgement as well as the judgement of history.  And always, always they must keep in mind and take to heart what is good for the majority of the Filipino people, even as each Party will have its own interpretation of what exactly that means.
Many times we have been asked how far we think the peace negotiations can go, what really is possible under the Duterte administration that has vowed to be “inclusive” and the harbinger of “change” but is in fact dominated still by the political and economic elite as reflected in Cabinet appointments to key positions and his majority backing in the Senate and House of Representatives.
How far can progressive, pro-people and nationalist reforms pushed by the NDFP advance through the peace talks even as the local oligarchy and foreign monopoly capitalist firms inevitably start to mount stiff opposition, the US and other imperialist powers plot interventionist moves, and the military, police and other state security forces threaten a coup d’etat against President Duterte?
In the past, even peace advocates and other progressives could only reply with qualified optimism. This time, there is reason for more optimism.
In a few days, the entire NDFP negotiating panel which has been based in Europe for at least three decades will be able to confer directly with a dozen or so consultants who mostly have been in the field all these time before their arrest. The firsthand and face-to-face sharing of experiences, views, situationers and proposals will be unprecedented and will certainly enrich the information-and-knowledge stock of the NDFP panel and sharpen and fine-tune its own proposals and positioning in the negotiations, especially with respect to the substantive agenda on reforms. This could considerably facilitate the discussions on the negotiating table itself and raise the probability of arriving at mutually acceptable propositions.
Indeed while it is still anyone’s guess, efforts to still the guns of war in exchange for a just and lasting peace based on addressing the underlying roots of armed conflict must be sustained, nurtured and even defended by all concerned, that means by each and every one of us.
For social reformers, political activists as well as peace and human rights advocates this translates to pressing on with the struggle for substantial and fundamental reforms in the socio-economic, political and cultural spheres so that the agreements on the substantive agenda are amplified, enriched and bolstered thereby increasing their chances of being upheld and implemented by both Parties. #
Published in Business World
22 August 2016

STREETWISE: Why peace talks hang in the balance

Streetwise
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Why peace talks still hang in the balance
And so it has come to this.  After stoking such high expectations about the resumption of peace talks between the  Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)  considers the top “security threat” in the country today — the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) — President Rodrigo Duterte now scoffs at the  strength and significance of these revolutionary forces.  He also calls their acknowledged leader, Jose Maria Sison, who he had earlier respectfully referred to as his political mentor, “arrogant” for rapping him about giving ultimatums to the revolutionary movement.
During non-stop visits to military camps all over the country, Mr. Duterte in effect tells his audience of military officials and soldiers, in his signature kanto boy style, that he thinks he is doing the CPP-NPA-NDFP a big favor by engaging them in peace negotiations.
Why, he even declared a unilateral ceasefire effective immediately at his SONA, no less.
But the CPP-NPA-NDFP did not reciprocate with its own unilateral ceasefire declaration after he gave a deadline of 5pm last July 30. (The CPP announced it would make a declaration at 8pm).
So Mr. Duterte lifts the GRP’s unilateral ceasefire at 7pm and he tells the military and the police that they can go back to what they have been trying to do for more than four decades; that is, defeat the NPA militarily and decimate the CPP and NDFP cadre corps through a “legal offensive” utilizing fabricated criminal cases. (Not surprisingly, he sounds much less belligerent and derisive of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, if at all, when addressing a non-military audience, such as the PCCRV.)
But wait a minute. Mr. Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza says the August 20 talks are still on track. So does Mr. Luis Jalandoni, NDFP chief peace negotiator. What is going on here?
As it turns out, a unilateral ceasefire declaration, whether by the GRP or the CPP-NPA-NDFP, was never a precondition to the resumption of the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.  As a matter of fact, the consensus reached by the two sides last June 15 (contained in their Oslo Joint Statement) was that the “mode of interim ceasefire” would be discussed when the formal talks resumed in July alongside “an amnesty declaration for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to the concurrence of Congress”.
Mr. Duterte’s dramatic declaration of a unilateral ceasefire at his July 25 SONA was his big-bang gesture that unfortunately ended in a whimper.
When Duterte’s people failed to communicate to the NDFP the full text of the AFP SOMO (Suspension of Offensive Military Operations) and the PNP SOPO (Suspension of Offensive Police Operations) in a timely manner; military maneuvers and occupation of rural civilian communities continued unabated; an armed clash took place resulting in the death of a member of a notorious paramilitary group — all these contributed to a delay in the CPP-NPA-NDFP’s reciprocal declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.
In the end, Mr. Duterte’s precipitate ceasefire declaration was undermined by his own people as well as his precipitate decision to recall it — two hours after his arbitrary deadline and one hour before the anticipated CPP-NPA-NDFP announcement of its ceasefire.
In the meantime, there have been no releases of the more than 500 political prisoners nationwide and counting. As in zero. Zilch. This, after Mr. Duterte’s ever-so-generous offer to grant a general amnesty in meetings with the NDFP official representative, even before his inauguration. “I know most if not all of them (political prisoners) are being held on trumped-up charges” he reportedly said, priding himself to know, after having been a prosecutor for many years, the quality of justice meted out in Philippine courts.
Twenty two NDFP peace consultants remain behind bars, three of them convicted, on the basis of trumped-up criminal cases.  There are more than eighty political prisoners who are sick, elderly, husband-and-wife detainees, or for other humanitarian considerations, deserve to be released immediately.
Like all political prisoners, they are victims of political persecution and  an ongoing miscarriage of justice as part of the government’s insidious scheme to deal with political dissenters by illegally arresting them, placing them in indefinite detention until they can be convicted of spurious criminal charges and then made to rot in prison for the rest of their productive lives.
By the way, the easiest way to do this is to plant a piece of grenade in their belongings upon arrest for that makes their case non-bailable. (The grenade is recyclable for the next unsuspecting victim.) No use charging them with the more appropriate political crime of simple rebellion since that is more difficult to prove and is, in fact, bailable.
It goes without saying that they are vilified as “communist terrorists”, murderers, arsonists, robbers, kidnappers and what have you all the better to deny them any kind of public sympathy. (Notably, they do not pin the favorite and most reviled kind of crime of late, illegal drug trafficking, against these activists and revolutionaries because that would indeed be laughable.)
Not that political dissenters are no longer the object or targets of extrajudicial killing by the state’s security forces. It’s just that dealing with the so many “enemies of the state” via this most brutal of means as in the time of President Gloria Arroyo, raised a howl of protest from the local and international human rights community.  Too costly politically so the government came up with this “legal offensive” scheme.
The Arroyo regime put up the Inter-agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) tasked to investigate, prosecute, monitor and handle litigation processes of cases involving national security.  It ended up as the government agency responsible for fabricating criminal lawsuits against the alleged top leadership of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and even political activists that the government suspects are members or supporters of the revolutionary movement.  The IALAG has officially been abolished but its function has been institutionalized in the state’s police, prosecutorial as well as judicial system.
Taken in this light, the call for the release of all political prisoners is valid in its own right.
As a means to forging ahead with the peace negotiations and ultimately achieving a just and lasting peace, their release gains even more urgency and is deserving of the broadest public support. #
Published in Business World
8 August 2016