The government is not closing the door on the possibility of resuming peace negotiations with the communist insurgents. However, future talks should be within the framework of the Philippine Constitution, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
“The government has always been supportive of peace talks with the communist group. However, it must, first and foremost, adhere to the Philippine Constitution and the democratic process,” Attorney Wilben Mayor, OPAPP chief-of-staff and spokesperson said.
Mayor was reacting to recent statements made by the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) that the government is not inclined to resume the stalled peace negotiations.
He noted that what the CPP-NPA-NDF is actually pushing for is their “own brand of peace talks” which is anchored on the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social Economic Reforms (CASER) as a precondition for the resumption of the talks.
“In the first place, CASER is flawed. The document is filled with unconstitutional provisions. What the insurgents are trying to do is to sell the idea to the public that the government does not want to engage in peace talks with them,” Mayor pointed out.
“But their real intention is only to hold the peace negotiations hostage by shoving CASER down the government and the Filipino people’s throats. The document is part of their grand scheme to seize power from the government,” he said.
Mayor admitted that the government has learned a lot from the many years it has been dealing with the communists across the negotiating table.
“The communists have been using the peace negotiations as a weapon against the Filipino people. And we will not allow this to continue. There should be a mechanism in place to prevent them from exploiting the peace talks,” he said.
It is a known fact, Mayor said, that the rebels have aggressively carried out recruitment of cadres and continued to harass military and civilians even while the peace talks were ongoing.
Constitution is non-negotiable
According to the OPAPP executive, the best way for the future peace talks to resume is for both parties to develop a new framework that is within the ambit of the Philippine Constitution, that there is only one sovereign state, one constitution, and one armed forces.
“The government’s stand is very clear that any talks should be within the ambit of the constitution and the rule of law because this is where we derive our mandate in the first place,” he emphasized.
Former chief negotiators such as ex-Philippine ambassador to the Holy See and Malta Howard Q. Dee, who chaired the GPH Peace Panel with the CPP-NPA-NDF from 1993 to 1999, and Atty. Alexander Padilla who led the talks during the Aquino administration, have called for a thorough review of previous agreements signed by both parties.
Dee and Padilla have pointed out that the communists are merely using these same documents to mislead the people and push forward their organization’s agenda.
Among these agreements, Dee said, is the 1992 Hague Declaration which he described as “poisoned from the beginning as it hid the ill intentions of the NDF which has been finally unveiled during the course of the peace negotiations.”
“The Hague Declaration was designed as a subterfuge to disable our Constitution and neutralize its sole and indivisible sovereignty with an undefined ‘sovereignty’ that is mutually shared,” Dee wrote in his assessment report of the GPH-NDFP peace talks in 2002.
“Therefore, any further reaffirmation of the commitment to the Hague Joint Declaration is anathema as its 'inherent character' is neither apparent nor transparent,” he explained in his report.
When adopted, the document will "paralyze our Constitution and deprive us of a legal regime that will ensure the legality and enforceability of our agreements,” Dee added.
The former ambassador also believes that the communists have a skewed understanding of the true intent Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which it signed with the government in 1998.
Dee pointed out that the rebel group has been pushing for the approval of the document even without a proper legal framework for its mutual implementation. Similar on what they are doing now for the affirmation of CASER prior to the affirmation of peace talks.
“What would happen if we allow the implementation of the CARHRIHL in accordance with this NDF process? The result is predictable: One, the NDF would now claim that they have the right, that is recognized, respected and confirmed by us, to arrest, prosecute and punish whomever they accuse as violators of human rights,” he said.
“Second, without the protection of our own legal framework, we would be moving out of the ambit of our Constitutional authority and we would be called to task by Congress for implementing an agreement that would impinge on our constitutional sovereignty. Third, we would be recognizing their claim to a status of belligerency…” he added.
This is the same argument made by Padilla who wrote in 2016 that the CARHRIHL “adheres to the old tenet that only the State can violate human rights, a doctrine that has been rendered obsolete by International Humanitarian Law.”
He added that the communist’s “premise on constitutional reforms is based on their non-recognition of our Constitution.”
“How could negotiations begin on such fundamental flaw? Government, the communists, or even both of them acting in unison cannot amend or change the Constitution through a simple agreement,” Padilla said.
“This is done either through a Constitutional Convention or Constituent Assembly of Congress and then subjected to ratification by our people. Our Constitution does not recognize shortcuts, certainly not one resulting from a mere peace agreement,” he emphasized.
Communist abusing JASIG
Padilla said the communist group has, over the years, been using the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) to their advantage.
"Releases have always been a condition of theirs but after more than 30 years of government's confidence-building measures, including the release of [NDF leader Joma] Sison himself in 1986 under then President Corazon Aquino, a peace settlement is nowhere in sight," he said.
"In fact, under PNoy's term where nine out of their most valued consultants have been set free, it never engendered goodwill for the continuation of the talks. On the contrary, four of those nine even went underground to continue waging 'people's war' against the government," Padilla added.
According to the former peace negotiator, the communist groups have been using this tactic to fool the Filipino people.
"In other jurisdictions, the releases of captives usually happen after the after a final peace agreement has been inked, not before. Releases, even as goodwill measures, do not result in trust and confidence nor do they move the parties closer to an agreement," he noted.
Under the Duterte administration at least 21 members of the so-called consultants were released to join the peace negotiations. However, many of them have rejoined the underground movement after their temporary release lapsed.
“For the last 30 years and over the five presidents, the communists have been demanding confidence-building measures, but without giving any return. They fancy themselves as the savior of the people, which is why in negotiations, they are adamant in aspiring to solve the basic ills of society. They delude themselves into thinking that they and only they represent the true causes and concerns of the Filipino people. In short, despite being in the minority, they believe they are the vanguards of the people who know what is best for them,” Padilla said.
Peace process to continue
For Mayor, even if there are no ongoing formal peace negotiations between the government and the communist, the Duterte Administration continues to push forward the peace process in order to address the roots of the decades-long armed rebellion.
“Let us remember that peace negotiations are only part and parcel of the entire peace-building process,” he said, adding that there are several paths to peace that the government is utilizing.
The six paths to peace are: 1) Pursuit of social, economic and political reforms; 2) Consensus-building and empowerment for peace; 3) Peaceful negotiated settlement with different rebel groups; 4) Programs for reconciliation, reintegration into mainstream society and rehabilitation; 5) Addressing concerns arising from continuing armed hostilities; 6) Building and nurturing a climate conducive to peace.
Mayor stressed that even if the peace talks have been terminated, the government has continued to implement initiatives that are designed to build on the gains of the peace process.
These interventions include localized peace engagements or LPEs under Executive Order No. 70, which institutionalized the good governance through the Whole-of-Nation Approach to end local communist armed conflict.
“We are conducting LPEs all over the country, wherein we involve the communities in problem-solving sessions and consultations, as well as hold dialogues with the communist rebels. These are all designed to swiftly and directly address their needs on the ground, the end result of which is for the rebels to return to the folds of the law,” Mayor said.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte terminated the peace talks in 2017 following a spate of attacks perpetrated by the CPP-NPA, which resulted in the death of innocent civilians and children and the destruction of government and privately-owned facilities.
EO 70 aims to address gaps not only in the delivery of basic services to the people, especially those residing in the countryside, and also pursue reforms in government policies through good governance.
Mayor said that the communist insurgents have refused to lay down their arms in exchange for genuine peace, adding, “Never has it been the rebels’ intention to demobilize their armed wing even if both parties sign the final peace agreement.”
As further proof of the communist group's insincerity to forge a just and lasting peace agreement with the government, the CPP Central Committee declared in 2016 that they have no plans to abandon armed struggle.
“While engaging the Duterte regime in peace negotiations and possible alliance in order to advance the national and democratic aspirations of the Filipino people, the revolutionary forces will continue to relentlessly advance the people’s armed resistance and democratic mass struggles,” the communists said in a statement posted on their website.
“While open to cooperation and alliance, they must relentlessly criticize and oppose any and all anti-people and pro-imperialist policy and measure. There will be no honeymoon with the Duterte regime,” the statement further said.
Mayor underscored that in order to end the armed conflict and for genuine peace to be achieved, all agreements must adhere to the Philippine Constitution and democratic processes.
“The conduct of local peace engagements follows the constitutional mandate of the government, which is to serve the people. It worked during the time of one our great peace advisers Haydee Yorac with the successful negotiation and settlement of conflict with CPP-NPA Rejectionist Group, the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) under Father Conrado Balweg and Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade Group,” Mayor said.
“LPE will address both the vertical and horizontal conflicts. The people will have a sense of ownership because the process is all-inclusive. LPE worked and it is working well even today,” he concluded.