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The Role of Church Leaders in Moving the Peace Process Forward

Church Leaders Workshop on Peace
Tagaytay City, Philippines
November 7, 2007

Paper Presented by:
Edre U. Olalia
Legal Consultant
NDFP-Nominated Section in the Joint Secretariat
GRP-NDFP Joint Monitoring Committee

Your Excellencies, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Negotiating Panel Chairperson Luis G. Jalandoni, I would like to thank Bishop Iñiguez, Fr. Beckers, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) and the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform (NEPP), and other organizers for the kind invitation to give a presentation on the role of church leaders in moving the peace process forward. Much as Mr. Jalandoni would very much like to be here in person, the pending trumped-up legal case against him filed in Leyte and the prevailing hostile conditions in the country prevents him from coming today.

As legal consultant of the NDFP-Joint Secretariat, I had earlier presented in Zambales at the October 11, 2007 Luzon Regional Consultation Workshop of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) a review and update on the peace process between the GRP and the NDFP. I refer you to my paper as well as the presentation by Ms. Marissa Dumanjug-Palo, head of the NDFP-Joint Secretariat at the workshop in Dumaguete on May 18, 2007 on the role of civil society in moving forward the peace negotiations as complementary references to the topic today. There have been further developments since the meeting of the PEPP and that is what I will mainly present and discuss today.

First let me reiterate the point that the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) considers the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP to be still ongoing.

In August 2004, the NDFP postponed the formal talks of the negotiating panels after the GRP failed to show during the third round of formal talks in June 2004 in Oslo that it had complied with its obligations in accordance with Oslo I and II and other bilateral agreements. It even refused to issue a joint communiqué. It makes a charade of negotiations if indeed one side kept making commitments it did not intend to keep. But the NDFP gave the GRP the benefit of the doubt. It postponed the formal talks to give the latter time to comply with its obligations.

However, instead of making the effort to comply with its obligations, the GRP showed bad faith by formally suspending the formal talks in December 2004 and in August the following year, it unilaterally suspended the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) .

It is the NDFP's longstanding position that the suspension of peace talks declared by the GRP is invalid. The JASIG does not provide for suspension; it only provides for termination thirty days after written notice by one Party to the other. If the GRP is morally convinced of its position that peace negotiations are pointless, it should have the candor to formally notify the NDFP that the JASIG is terminated and that therefore the peace negotiations are finished instead of resorting to legal somersaults.

The NDFP also affirms that all agreements signed with the GRP remain binding and effective. The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), which was established in February 2004 as mandated by the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), continues to function, albeit not as fully and effectively as was envisioned.

This much was admitted by the GRP when it reported on October 30, 2007 to the Third Committee of the Sixty-second United Nations General Assembly in New York that the peace process between the Government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front included mechanisms to jointly monitor human rights violations on both sides. What the GRP conveniently failed to mention is that it has paralyzed or rendered this mechanism inutile by refusing to allow its side of the JMC to meet with the NDFP-Monitoring Committee and perform its joint function.

Thus, what is important is to understand the reasons for the breakdown in 2004 of the formal meetings of the negotiating panels. The letter and spirit of the agreements between the NDFP and GRP should be studied carefully to know what exactly are the obligations and responsibilities both parties have committed to fulfill.

More important at this point is that the agreements also provide suggestions and openings on how to resume the formal talks.

The Arroyo regime is obsessed with the objective of seeking the outright military destruction of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People's Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Along the way, it wishes to lay aside the framework of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations established in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992.

But a GRP military victory over the NPA looks as elusive as ever. Despite the claim of Mrs. Arroyo that she would be able to achieve the military defeat of the revolutionary movement before 2010, her own generals have had to admit that both the timetable and the stated ultimate objective are unrealistic.

What is clear is that the economic, political, cultural and moral crisis of Philippine society continues and continues to worsen. And apart from the small gang of hawks in the Arroyo administration represented in the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS), there is broad agreement among different sectors in Philippine society, including church leaders, that the resumption of formal talks in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations is an important component, if not key, in the solution of this crisis.

Impediments to Peace Negotiations

The formal talks broke down in 2004 because the Arroyo regime put up impediments to their continuance. According to the Chairperson of the NDFP Negotiating Panel himself, in order for formal talks to resume, these impediments would have to be removed first. I refer you to his press statement entitled "Impediments to the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations Should be Done Away With" dated October 17, 2007. It would be counterproductive and unrealistic to hold formal talks with these impediments still existing. Some of these major impediments are:

  • the repeated declaration of all-out war against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People's Army (NPA) and the NDFP;
  • demanding the capitulation of these revolutionary forces and negotiations at the local level for the purpose of splitting them;
  • the brutal campaigns of military and police suppression causing the uprooting of more than a million people;
  • the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of more than 1000 unarmed legal activists;
  • the failure of the Arroyo regime to comply with its obligations in Oslo Joint Statements I and II regarding the terrorist blacklisting of the CPP, the NPA and Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP Chief Political Consultant;
  • the failure of the Arroyo government to compensate the victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime;
  • and the false charges against Prof. Sison resulting in his unjust arrest, detention and continuing persecution and the Dutch police raids on the NDFP Information Office and homes of NDFP negotiating panelists, consultants and staffers.
Doing away with these impediments is not a precondition but is a matter of compliance with existing agreements of the GRP and NDFP. If relatively simple matters like these cannot be resolved, how else can we expect to solve our country's enormous economic, political, cultural and moral problems?

Implications of the arrest of Prof. Sison and raid on NDFP International Office

The arrest on August 28, 2007 of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, and the police raids of the NDFP International Information Office and the residences of NDFP panelists, consultants and staffers have placed additional serious obstacles to the peace negotiations and its resumption.

The attack on the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel is an unprecedented attack on a national liberation movement. It was not done on the offices and representatives of the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization in The Netherlands during the Cold War period.

The hostile actions of the Dutch authorities, in collusion with the US and the Arroyo regime, are a systematic and gross attempt to suppress the capabilities and resources of the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel for peace negotiations. They are calculated to blackmail and put under duress the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel in order to pressure them to capitulate or to surrender under the pretext of a prolonged ceasefire, without addressing the root causes of the armed conflict through fundamental social, economic and political reforms as required by The Hague Joint Declaration, the framework agreement for the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

The hostile actions of the Dutch authorities constitute a serious act of sabotage of the peace talks. They constitute a gross disrespect for and direct attack on the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel. They have rendered inhospitable the environment for the NDFP and its Negotiating Panel in The Netherlands and the whole of Europe, negating the status of the European Union and its member states as a neutral foreign venue.

Thus, it may be necessary at the appropriate time and circumstance to transfer the venue of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations from Europe to another venue, even as the Royal Norwegian Government continues as the main facilitator and main supporter of the peace negotiations.

Third party facilitator

Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar, Special Envoy of the Norwegian Government, newly appointed to take charge of Norway's third party facilitator role in the peace talks, met separately with GRP officials and the NDFP-nominated section in the Joint Secretariat in Manila and with the NDFP Negotiating Panel and Consultants in Utrecht in October 2007.

Ambassador Brattskar and three other officials and staff declared Norway's commitment to continue fostering the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations. They listened to the NDFP delegation regarding the NDFP's stand on the current situation of the peace talks. The NDFP officials stressed the NDFP's openness towards the resumption of serious peace negotiations in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 and other agreements signed from 1992 to 2004. This means that the talks must be directed at addressing the roots of the armed conflict through economic, social and political reforms. The NDFP stressed that the capitulation which the Arroyo government is demanding is in violation of The Hague Joint Declaration and is not acceptable. The same is true of the regime's demand for a prolonged ceasefire, without addressing the roots of the armed conflict, without any socio-economic and political reforms beneficial to the people.

Concise agreement

On August 27, 2005 the NDFP National Council proposed a concise but comprehensive agreement consisting of ten points to end the civil war and achieve a just peace. I refer you to this document entitled "NDFP Proposes Concise Agreement to End Civil War and Achieve Just Peace Immediately." The NDFP proposed the end of the civil war between the GRP and the NDFP within the very day that the agreement is signed. Alliance and truce then become the modus vivendi of the GRP and the NDFP. The proposal is offered not only to the incumbent GRP regime but also to a new one that may arise soon.

This is a bold proposal that the NDFP is making. It demonstrates the fact that the NDFP is not averse to a ceasefire or truce for as long as it does not set aside or obscure the people's demands for major reforms.

Initiatives in the GRP legislature

On October 12, 2007, Senator Jamby Madrigal met with the Negotiating Panel of the NDFP and Chief Political Consultant Prof. Jose Ma. Sison in Amsterdam.

Two concrete proposals to push forward the peace process came out of the meeting.

The NDFP proposed that while the Arroyo regime is intransigently against the resumption of formal talks in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, the Senate Committee on Peace, Unification and Reconciliation (Committee on Peace) and the NDFP Negotiating Panel form their respective committee of experts with five members each, to discuss the three remaining items in the substantive agenda (social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms and end of hostilities and disposition of forces) and produce within one year a common draft agreement for each of the three items.

The process will not supplant the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations within the framework of The Hague Joint Declaration but will be undertaken to aid legislation, demonstrate that it is possible to make mutually satisfactory agreements for the common benefit of the Filipino people and to produce the basis for accelerated negotiations and agreements in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

Alternatively, Senator Madrigal proposed creating a technical working group to assist in hastening the resolution of the remaining items in the substantive agenda of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations for the purpose of enacting remedial legislation.

Whichever of these two proposals will finally be implemented, they remain important and landmark initiatives and deserve your careful consideration and support.

Earlier on July 26, 2007, Senator Mar Roxas in a speech at the Lyceum of the Philippines called for the Arroyo regime to resume peace talks with the NDFP "without any conditions from both sides." Senator Roxas urged "the government to withdraw the condition attendant to a ceasefire, and the NDF to withdraw the condition attendant to the terrorist listing."

Mr. Jalandoni welcomed Senator Roxas' call in a statement dated July 30, 2007, saying that indeed the GRP precondition for a three-year ceasefire ahead of formal negotiations is not tenable. It violates The Hague Joint Declaration and subsequent agreements which require that social, economic and political reforms be negotiated and agreed upon before the consideration of the end of hostilities and redisposition of forces.

On the matter of the unjust "terrorist" listing of the CPP, the NPA and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, Senator Roxas is not quite correct in characterizing the NDFP position. As pointed out in the statement of the NDFP Panel Chair, the NDFP does not demand that the Arroyo government ask the US and other foreign governments to take off the CPP, NPA and Prof. Sison from their "terrorist" lists. All that the NDFP is calling for is that the Arroyo government makes a statement, together with the NDFP and the Filipino people, asserting the inherent right of the Filipino people to make decisions on Philippine affairs and circumstances and declare that such listing by foreign governments violates the Filipino people's right to national sovereignty.

To boost the call of Senator Roxas, the NDFP suggested the holding of exploratory talks as soon as possible with the objective of addressing and resolving the rampant extrajudicial killings and abductions and other human rights violations as well as the indemnification of victims of human rights violations. The exploratory talks could aim to produce a joint statement of principles, taking into consideration the NDFP Proposal for a Concise Agreement for an Immediate Just Peace.

In a recent telephone conference with Representative Wigberto "Erin" Tanada III, Chairperson of the House Committee on Human Rights, NDFP Panel Chair Jalandoni encouraged Rep. Tanada to discuss with Senator Madrigal and Senator Francis Escudero, Chair of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, ways and means by which the legislative branch of government can promote human rights and the resumption of formal peace talks.

Church leaders can help catalyze all these proposals and initiatives coming from the Senate of the GRP. The senators can be asked to concretize and elaborate their ideas. Inputs and suggestions can be made to help refine these ideas and bring them to fruition and push forward the peace negotiations. Channels of communication must be opened and maintained so that the issue of a just and durable peace comes more to the forefront of the national agenda.

There is now recognition even within the ranks of the GRP that the Arroyo regime's policy of all-out war towards the revolutionary movement has been a complete failure and that it is now time for the GRP to adopt a more productive policy.

In the recent words of NDFP Chief Political Consultant Prof. Sison: "the main aim is to develop the grounds for a resumption of peace negotiations either under the Arroyo regime or after" even as the NDFP is in fact "open to peace negotiations even during the time of Arroyo if she is willing."

The Arroyo regime as obstacle to peace

But the Arroyo regime itself appears to be the key obstacle to peace. It has put up the impediments mentioned above and paralyzed the peace negotiations. It has colluded with US and Dutch authorities to directly attack the NDFP Negotiating Panel and NDFP chief political consultant Prof. Sison. Mrs. Arroyo's scandalous career of corruption and plunder, gross and systematic violation of human rights and subservience to the worst impositions of foreign and local reactionary interests has aggravated the country's economic, political, cultural and moral crisis.

In the matter of extrajudicial killings for example, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Prof. Philip Alston observed in his report to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on October 25, 2007 that "The bottom line is that only the elimination of such killings and the ending of the impunity enjoyed to date, by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in particular, will signal that the situation has turned the corner. Yet I continue to receive deeply disturbing reports."

He expressed disappointment about "The Government's decision to continue to establish barriers to Congressional oversight" especially after his "interim note on the mission identified these barriers as a key problem."

Prof. Alston is right about the Arroyo regime. The regime of impunity will continue not only with regards to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances but also in the recent cases of corruption and bribery like the ZTE deal and the payola of congressmen and governors. Of course, the Garci scandal remains unresolved. None of these issues will ever be resolved under the Arroyo regime even if there is available prima facie evidence since the regime and Mrs. Arroyo herself are the primary suspect.

The recent Glorietta bombing where 11 persons died and more than a hundred were seriously injured is a clear case of terrorism but already we see that the police investigators have shown themselves incapable of carrying out an independent investigation into its causes from the very first moment. Senator Antonio Trillanes no less has directly accused Secretary Norberto Gonzales and General Hermogenes Esperon of responsibility for the bombing. The Arroyo regime is also accused of responsibility in at least two other cases of terrorist attacks, the recent one in Cagayan de Oro where streetchildren were able to identify an ISAFP agent as the perpetrator and the Sasa wharf bombing in Davao. We see that the Arroyo regime's ant-terror rhetoric is entirely self-serving.

A growing and broad array of the Filipino people desire the soonest possible end of the Arroyo regime. Its removal from power sooner than 2010 can be a significant step towards a just peace if a new leadership of the GRP would cooperate with the NDFP in addressing the roots of the armed conflict through social, economic, political and constitutional reforms in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration and other agreements already signed and approved by the GRP and NDFP. A new GRP regime would do well to study the NDFP proposal of co-signing the concise agreement to end the civil war and achieve a just peace.

The role of Church leaders

The past six years of the Arroyo regime have been among the most troublous years in our country's history. The responses of the churches and their leaders have been varied, from open activism to complete withdrawal from the political arena, from issue to issue engagement to a comprehensive view of what might appear to be separate and unrelated issues. Thus, how the churches and their leaders approach and view the peace negotiations depend to a great extent on how they view and choose to respond to the crisis generated by six years of the Arroyo regime.

Church leaders and organizations have played different important direct and indirect roles at key moments of the peace negotiations. There is no one fixed or constant role as this is very much a dynamic and evolving process, depending on context and changing circumstance. What is important is the willingness to be involved in a meaningful way and being able to recognize the need of the moment and to act accordingly.

I have presented from my professional point of view as a student, participant and consultant of the peace negotiations the various NDFP proposals to push forward the peace negotiations. I have been authorized to attend this workshop and present the latest on the peace negotiations. The NDFP is ready to hear your comments and suggestions and to work together with you in resolving the country's economic, political, cultural and moral crisis.

What is clear is that in thinking about the issue of peace and in particular about the resumption of formal peace negotiations, Church leaders cannot help but think about the host of other problems that today confront our country. These are after all the subject of the next two topics in the substantive agenda of the negotiations: socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms.

If we are able to stop the killings, abductions and other violations of the rights of activists, peasants, workers, church people, journalists, lawyers and others, remove the conditions that engender them, and make accountable the violators, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to stop the destruction of our environment and the plunder of our natural resources by greedy local and foreign interests, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to give schooling, basic medicines and nutrition to all our children, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to provide decent jobs and living wage for our people in our own country, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to effectively give to the actual tillers our farmlands, free them from decades of penury, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to uplift the masses of the people from grinding and humiliating poverty and reduce the immense social and economic inequality in our society, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

If we are able to stop the lying and stealing by those who claim to be our leaders but who make business out of their public positions, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

And if we are able to determine our own future and reap the benefits of our resources for the greater majority of our people, without any intervention or dictates from foreign stranglehold, then we will be nearer our goal of a just peace.

The issue of peace is therefore an invitation to be involved in solving our country's economic, political, cultural and moral crisis. It is an invitation that as Filipinos we cannot refuse. #

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