STREETWISE: The Colombian peace process — a model for the Philippines? by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo


Ask a Filipino nowadays what he or she knows about Colombia and chances are the reply will be about how the reigning Miss Universe, the Philippines’ Pia Alonzo Wurztbach, almost lost her crown to Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, after the emcee mistakenly announced the Colombian beauty to be the winner.

However there is much much more going on in this Latin American country of 48 million people. Of major significance nationally and regionally is the more than three-year-old peace negotiations between the Colombian government led by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) to resolve five decades of armed conflict with the largest of several guerrilla groups operating inside the country. A negotiated political settlement is aimed for by March of this year.

The Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) has been playing a pivotal role, together with the Cuban government, as facilitator in the Colombian peace negotiations. (The RNG is also third party facilitator in the peace talks between the Philippine government or GPH and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines or NDFP). Recently, the RNG brought its special envoy for the Colombian peace process, Mr. Dag Nylander, to Manila for him to share his experiences and to have a candid discussion with different groups and personalities here regarding the stalled GPH-NDFP peace negotiations.

Nylander shared not just information but insight into what he sees as the key elements that have contributed to the big progress in the peace negotiations in Colombia. He highlighted three of them: the “commitment” of the two sides to the peace process; the “inclusivity” of the process; and lastly, the “involvement” of international third parties.

Nylander said the Santos government clearly demonstrated its seriousness about entering into talks with FARC by no longer categorizing the revolutionary organization as a “narco-terrorist” (i.e. a “terrorist” group that engages in drug trafficking to fund its operations and gain adherents) in contrast to its predecessor, the Uribe government. President Santos, who was previously defense minister and a hardliner in dealing with FARC, implicitly recognized the latter as a political group with political goals and “historical reasons” for its existence. Nylander underscored, however, that Santos never “legitimized” FARC’s armed struggle against the government.

For its part, Nylander said FARC clearly took a “risky” decision of entering into peace talks with its avowed enemy because it was convinced that there was a possibility for a “strategic solution”. He said FARC concluded that they were being “taken seriously by their opponent”. Considering the extremely bloody US-backed counterinsurgency programs implemented by a series of Colombian governments that have led to hundreds of thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of its members killed, FARC must have had plenty of good reasons, internal and external, to agree to the talks. Nylander mentioned the strong push for talks by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, both of whom were considered staunch supporters of FARC.

Over six months of negotiations, a framework agreement was concluded that laid as the objective not just the end to the armed conflict but the resolution of its underlying causes. FARC did not get all of its proposed agenda included but settled on four out of five that was mutually agreed upon: land reform, political participation, illegal drugs trade, victim compensation and justice, and end of conflict.

Just last January 15, the two parties inked a particularly thorny “transitional justice” agreement that had to do with of justice and reparations to victims of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. This agreement held that FARC combatants and members would not be jailed for their “crimes” as rebels so long as they “confessed” to these through a tribunal that would be set up. They would instead make “reparations” in some other way, eg doing landmine clearing in designated areas.

Interestingly, a bilateral ceasefire was not a precondition to the start of the peace talks. It was the FARC that wanted a long-term ceasefire even before the negotiations were completed but the government has so far refused arguing that FARC would use the reprieve to consolidate itself. When FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire, government was eventually forced to reciprocate due to domestic and international pressure. It stopped its aerial bombardments of FARC-controlled areas even as other military operations continued.

Constitutional amendments to accommodate the terms of the final peace settlement are not anathema as far as the Colombian government is concerned. According to Nylander many adjustments are already being anticipated and prepared for to avoid legal and constitutional booby traps that could ensnare and sabotage the negotiations.
Even the language being used is meant to avoid the perception that FARC is negotiating its own surrender. The demobilization of the revolutionary army is called “laying weapons aside” and up for negotiations still is whether FARC’s arms will be turned over to the government (that FARC still distrusts) or to an international third party and what protection will there be for its members once they are no longer armed.

The sharing with Nylander certainly spurred this writer and peace advocate to study the Colombian peace process more closely. Will it result in far-reaching socioeconomic and political reforms requisite to the forging of a just and lasting peace or will its outcome be the pacification and cooptation of a formidable revolutionary organization that has sustained its armed struggle for more than half a century.

For its part, the GPH-NDFP peace talks are currently plagued by a clear lack of commitment primarily from the Aquino government . The Aquino administration has shown its utter lack of political will to persist in the negotiations in the wake of twists and turns inherent in the process and to abide by inked bilateral agreements whether these be the framework agreement (The Hague Joint Declaration), safety and immunity guarantees (JASIG), or even just confidence-building measures (release of a certain number of political prisoners especially for humanitarian reasons such as the elderly or the sick.)
Aquino’s adviser on the peace process, Sec. Teresita “Ging” Deles, and the GPH chief negotiator, Atty. Alex Padilla, have proven themselves as plain obstructionists by virtue of their ideologically-driven hard-line positions and propensity to throw a monkey wrench into the process; their lack of openness and creativity in working out solutions to impasses or even just sticky negotiation points; and their track record of torpedoing any attempts by concerned groups or individuals to restart the talks that have been virtually deadlocked for almost the entire Aquino presidency.

President Aquino should have fired both Deles and Padilla long ago for being incompetent non-performing government officials. That he has not done so places the onus of frozen GPH-NDFP peace negotiations squarely on his shoulders. Eof

Published in Business World
18 January 2016