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. #