Robredo commits to peace talks resumption

Vice President Leni Robredo is committed to resume formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) if she wins in the May polls, according to her spokesperson Atty. Barry Gutierrez.

Representing Robredo in the third episode of the Peace and Presidentiables webinar series organized by the Citizen’s Alliance for Just Peace (CAJP), Gutierrez assured that a Robredo administration would call for the resumption of the NDFP with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

A Robredo presidency would avoid militaristic and top-down strategies in favor of enabling marginalized sectors to have a role in governance and decision-making processes, including peace negotiations, Gutierrez added.

Robredo would re-engage communities and basic sectors to create a more conducive environment for peaceful negotiations, he said.

Gutierrez outlined five principles in the pursuit of this goal: the rejection of a purely militaristic approach; strong participation of communities and local stakeholders in the peace process; the primacy of protecting civilians from violence; a peace framework that is in line with national socioeconomic goals and social justice; and, the strategic role of international community, including longstanding partners such as the Royal Norwegian Government.

Reaffirmation of previous agreements

Robredo’s spokesperson also promised that she would uphold the milestone documents previously signed by the GRP and the NDFP.

These agreements include The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

On the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), which was jointly drafted and was ready for approval in 2017, Gutierrez said that economic and social reforms should be fundamental to the peace process. 

Robredo on the NTF-ELCAC

Gutierrez also clarified Robredo’s stance on the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), saying the Vice President believes that the original intention behind the agency was sound but the implementation of its mandate was marred by abuses.

 If the NTF-ELCAC were to be abolished, it would have to be replaced by a body that would pursue the “whole-of-nation approach” while upholding democratic principles, he said.

Gutierrez also explained that Robredo’s support for the “whole-of-nation approach” was not an endorsement of the NTF-ELCAC’s abuses, but an espousal of the idea that the insurgency has to be solved by including all aspects of national governance to address the root causes of the insurgency.

Robredo vowed to put an end to acts of harassment by the NTF-ELCAC, such as in the form of red-tagging, Gutierrez assured, the Vice President being a victim of red-tagging by officials of the NTF-ELCAC herself.

Robredo is also open to revisiting controversial provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

According to Gutierrez, Robredo will also be amenable to a reassessment of the terrorist designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as so-called terrorist organizations.

Robredo shall also initiate a review of the cases of political prisoners, including jailed NDFP peace consultants, to facilitate their release.

More presidentiables for talks

Earlier, Robredo’s rival for the presidency, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, also said he is amenable to a review of the CPP, NPA and NDFP’s designation as so-called terrorist organizations as part of the creation of an atmosphere for the resumption of formal peace negotiations.

Basta ako, yung peace talks, we must seek for it as much as possible. Not only the Communist Party but those other,” Moreno, during a campaign sortie in Lucena last Monday, said.

(For me, we must seek peace talks as much as possible. Not only with the CPP, but with other armed groups.)

Moreno served as NDFP Negotiating Panel resource person during talks between the Rodrigo Duterte GRP and the NDFP in 2016 and 2017.

Senator Manny Pacquaio and labor leader Leody de Guzman also said they will resume formal peace negotiations with the NDFP in the first two episodes of CAJP’s forum.

The Peace and the Presidentiable forum is organized in cooperation with the Lasallian Justice and Peace Commission of the De La Salle schools; Father Saturnino Urios University; Silliman University Student Council; St. Scholastica’s College, Manila; and, the University of the Philippines.

More NDFP consultant disappeared

Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan sounded an alarm over the disappearance of NDFP peace consultants Ezequiel Daguman and Edwin Alcid.

Karapatan image

Karapatan said 50-year-old Daguman and a companion have been missing since the afternoon of March 7 while they were on their way to a peasant community in one of the banana plantations in New Corella, Davao del Norte to look into the situation of workers and farmers in the area.

Alcid and two farmers were also reportedly accosted by military personnel last March 8 in Catubig, Northern Samar, the group reported.

Both consultants and their respective companions have not been located yet by their relatives, Karapatan added.

“We call on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to help the families of Daguman, Alcid and their companions to search military camps, police stations and safe houses to ensure that they are alive and are accorded their rights,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Daguman and Alcid make three the number of consultants to have been reported abducted since the start of the year.

Esteban Manuel was abducted last February 16 in Villareal, Samar and was kept incommunicado until the CHR found out he is being imprisoned at the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division camp in Calbayog City.

Like fellow NDFP peace consultants arrested, Manuel and his companions are accused of illegal possession of firearms and explosives that are the Duterte government’s standard charges against activists and dissenters.

Karapatan image

NDFP consultant Ramon Patriarca, already a former political prisoner, was arrested in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental last March 18, along with youth activists CJ Matarlo and John Michael Tecson were.

Karapatan has no details of the charges against Patriarca and companions.

“We assert the calls to surface Edwin Alcid and Ezequiel Daguman and to free Esteban Manuel Jr. and Ramon Patriarca now! These attacks on peace consultants and advocates must stop! We strongly urge the Philippine government and the NDFP to resume the peace talks as soon as possible for the sake of our people,” Palabay demanded.

Palabay reminded the government that peace consultants are covered by the (JASIG) that states peace consultants and peace panel members should be immune from arrests, detention, and harassment.

Despite the suspension of formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDFP, JASIG has not been formally terminated by both parties, she said.

Palabay said that the recent string of abductions and arrests of NDFP peace consultants “signal intensified attacks — and of worst things to come, especially with the Duterte administration’s self-imposed deadline to wipe out the NDFP. We can only expect the arrests, abductions, and even killings of peace consultants and advocates.”

“Our people deserve genuine peace. These attacks not only spoil efforts to advance just peace but instead perpetuates militarism, violence, and injustice. As we assert our calls to surface Edwin Alcid and Ezequiel Daguman and to free Esteban Manuel Jr. and Ramon Patriarca, we also call for the immediate resumption of the peace talks and to stop the attacks on peace consultants,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)