Peace talks with CPP: From impasse to breakthrough to breakthrough
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.”
– Luke 2:14
Breakthrough. This best describes the current peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)/New People’s Army (NPA)/National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), hosted and facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government at Oslo, Norway.
A Big Breakthrough
Not a small but a big breakthrough because after an impasse of five (5) long years during the administration of former Pres. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, the two Negotiating Panels formally resumed their peace talks at Oslo, Norway on August 10, 2016, culminating in the issuance and signing of a Joint Oslo Statement on August 26, 2016.
The Joint Oslo Statement of August 26, 2016 cited the opening ceremonies on August 22, 2016 where the two Negotiating Panels expressed their commitment “to resume the formal talks in the peace negotiations in order to resolve the armed conflict by addressing its root causes.” For its part, the Royal Norwegian Government through Foreign Minister Borge Brende reiterated its firm resolve to support the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.
Norway, a country of stunning natural beauty, blessed with deep fjords and glacier-covered valleys, high mountains, northern lights and the midnight sun, is a peace-living country and believes in negotiation as a means of settling conflicts. Every December 10 of each year, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo.
True to their commitment to resume the peace negotiations, the two Negotiating Panels, after serious but friendly four-day talks at Oslo, Norway agreed (a) to reaffirm previous agreements; (b) to reconstitute the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list; (c) to accelerate the peace negotiations and set the timeline for the completion of the resuming substantive agenda for the talks, namely, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces; (d) to cause the early release of prisoners (as listed by the NDFP) who are sick, elderly, overly long detained and women based on humanitarian grounds; (e) for the GRP Panel to immediately recommend to Pres. Duterte the issuance of an Amnesty Proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress, for the release of prisoners who are listed by the NDFP and who have been arrested, imprisoned, charged, and/or convicted for alleged acts or omissions within the ambit of the Revised Penal Code or special laws in connection with alleged crimes in pursuit of one’s political beliefs; (f) for the CPP and the NDFP to declare and issue an indefinite unilateral ceasefire order to the NPA and its people’s militia, upon the end of their current ceasefire order on August 27, 2016, in response to Pres. Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire which was effective indefinitely from August 21, 2016; (g) for the two Panels to meet again on October 8-12, 2016 in Oslo, Norway.
Less than two months after the formal resumption of peace negotiations in August 22-27, 2016, the two Negotiating Panels, eager to make advances in the peace talks, flew to Oslo, Norway on October 4 and 5, 2016 for the second round of peace talks.
For three days, the two Negotiating Panels discussed updates on the releases of detained prisoners listed by the NDFP, amnesty proclamation and proposed drafts on the framework and outline of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). They also agreed on a common outline for the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) and on a common outline for the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces CAEHDF), all of which would be enfleshed by the two Negotiating Panels’ Reciprocal Working Committees and reconcile them on the date and venue decided by the parties.
Finally, the Joint Monitoring Committee of the two Negotiating Panels discussed and agreed to undertake joint activities to popularize the 1998-signed Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and the Parties’ ceasefire committees similarly agreed to reconcile their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified document within 60 days from August 26, 2016.
To conclude the successful second round of talks the two Negotiating Panels signed on October 9, 2016 the Joint Statement On The Second Round of Talks Between the GRP And The NDFP.
Six Reasons for the Breakthrough
The remarkable and upbeat resumption of peace talks between the GRP and the CPP/NPA/NDFP under the Duterte administration is not without good reasons. The first is Pres. Duterte’s stouthearted resolve to finish the peace negotiations in one year as shown by his immediate constitution of the Government’s Negotiating Panel when he took office, followed by the impressive speedy releases of the NDFP consultants totaling twenty-one, enabling them to participate in the formal resumption of peace talks in Oslo, Norway. And twice, Pres. Duterte welcomed to Malacanang Palace the visit of the NDFP delegation, the first led by Satur Ocampo on April 15, 2016 and the next by Luis Jalandoni on September 26, 2016.
The second is the politically astute appointment of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the person of Jesus G. Dureza (whom I fondly call “bus driver for peace”) and the appointment of the Chairman of the Panel, Silvestre H. Bello III, a tried and tested peace negotiator and Members of the Panel (Hernani A. Braganza, Rene V. Sarmiento, Angela Librado-Trinidad and Antonio B. Arellano), majority of whom had been engaged for years in peace talks with the NDFP at the Netherlands and Norway, had experienced the ups-and-downs, the detours and zigs and zags of peace talks and had earned a big dose of goodwill from the CPP/NPA/NDFP Negotiating Panel. The institutional memory of this Government’s Negotiating Panel is a prized possession, a treasured dividend.
The third is the heartwarming and active facilitation by the Royal Norwegian Government of the peace negotiations. For more than a decade now, from 2001 up to the present, the Royal Norwegian Government, through its able Peace and Reconciliation Section of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, hosts and facilitates the talks between the GRP and the CPP/NPA/NDF and, through its generous support, the facilities of several hotels like Holmenkollen Park Hotel (site of the Israel-Palestinian Peace Accord, etc.) and Holmen Fjordhotell are made available to the two Parties for discussion, backroom talks, photo sessions, interactions, celebrations and accommodations. Oslo remains true to its title, “City of Peace.” Impressed by the facilitation of the Royal Norwegian Government, I gave its first Special Envoy to the Peace Talks, Torre Hattrem, the nickname “Mighty Thor” and its second Special Envoy, Elizabeth Slattum, the nickname “Super Woman.”
The fourth is the inspiration provided by the Colombian Final Peace Agreement that was formally negotiated for four years in Havana, Cuba (and nearly two years of talks about talks before that) and signed by the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), “Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejercito del Pueblo,” on September 26, 2016 at Cartagena, Colombia. It brought to a close the biggest armed conflict in Colombia which lasted for fifty-two years and was responsible for most of the 220,000 deaths due to conflict and thousands of kidnappings seen over the past five decades, displacing about 6 million people. In its article entitled “A Chance to Clean up,” The Economist, October 1-7, 2016, writes that “For all its imperfections and complexities, the agreement between the government and the FARC can transform a country that has been at war for 52 years.” Although the agreement was rejected by the Colombian voters by a very slim margin of .05% and a low turn-out of voters (37%), the Government under Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize because of this Agreement, is resolved to continue the peace process until accepted by the people of Colombia. The Government and FARC by now realize that any peace agreement without people’s support is a mirage.
The CPP/NPA/NDFP has been waging an armed struggle against the Government for almost five (5) decades now (the longest running communist armed struggle in Asia) and has resulted in the deaths of thousands, destruction to properties, disruption of businesses and displacement of many. Included in this death of thousands are combatants from both of the NPA, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)/Philippine National Police (PNP) and the civilians caught in the crossfire. A Colombia-like Final Peace Agreement between the Government and the CPP/NPA/NDFP will be the latter’s principled, peaceful and honorable exit out of the internal armed conflict, with neither blame nor surrender, but with dignity for all concerned.
The fifth is the Filipino people’s support. Peace organizations in the Philippines like SULONG CARHRIHL, PILGRIMS FOR PEACE, PHILIPPINE ECUMENICAL PEACE FORUM, etc., and the Filipino Community in Norway called FILCOM do not tire in urging and encouraging the Parties to talk. “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war,” says Winston Churchill. I had spoken before these three Philippine-based groups and their steadfast common call and plea is for the two Parties to sit in the peace table, arrived at a just and lasting peace agreement and once-for-all end the almost 50-year old armed conflict. In Oslo, Norway the Filipino community visits the Panels, consultants and staff of the two Parties in the venues where talks are held and supply them with words of encouragement and Filipino food like “adobo,” “kare-kare,” “pansit,” “lumpia,” “paksiw,” pritong manok,” etc. as supplement to the nutritious Norwegian food. This remarkable supporting role was formalized when, on October 8, 2016, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) inducted several of them as “Peace Ambassadors.”
The last but not the least was the useful role of prayer during the August formal resumption of talks. For the first time in the decades-long peace talks, the two Panels, in the presence of the Norwegian facilitators led by Special Envoy Elizabeth Slattum, prayed in front of each other, heads in solemn bow. This writer, acting on the request by GRP Chairman Silvestre H. Bello III, led the communal prayer by recalling the death anniversary of Mr. Erasto “Nonoy” Librado, a union leader, known to the two Panels and father of GRP Panel Member Atty. Angela Librado-Trinidad, and by beseeching Almighty God to guide the peace talks. God’s Word says that “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He watches all his paths. (Proverbs 5:21)”
Inches To Kilometers
During my Peace Talks Briefing/Update to the AFP Command Conference led by Secretary of National Defense Delfin N. Lorenzana on October 14, 2016 at Camp Aguinaldo, I told the men in uniform that the Government’s accomplishment in the peace talks, though still in admirable inches can become amazing kilometers if the local stakeholders (the military/police included), the international community and the general public, join hands to ensure the completion of the peace negotiation and making it sure that the Filipino people, through widespread and varied communication, support the process from peace talks to the signing of the Final Peace Agreement to approval to implementation.
To this vast human web of cooperation and collaboration, I added the much-needed guidance from the God of Peace who can make all things peaceable and possible.
(Rene. V. Sarmiento is a member of the GRP panel negotiating with the CPP. He is also the chair of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.)
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