February 8, 2017
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
THINK TANKS PRESS FOR BILATERAL CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT
“Total War” will only fuel armed struggle
Government’s declaration of “total war” against the NPA yesterday is misguided and imprudent as it was launched without a formal termination of the ongoing peace talks from the GRP and NDFP.
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), an independent policy think tank, today said that with both GRP and NDFP officials expressing hints of not entirely sealing the doors to continue the peace talks all the more is there reason for the armed forces to hold its fire.
Instead, Prof. Bobby M. Tuazon said, both panels should proceed to negotiating a bilateral ceasefire agreement as earlier set on February 22 in The Netherlands moving forward to the next round of formal talks in April, Oslo, Norway. The unfortunate events that mired the talks demand objectivity and prudence in appraising this situation to prevent rash and impulsive decisions from taking over, Tuazon, director of CenPEG’s policy studies, said.
A well-crafted bilateral ceasefire agreement, Tuazon said, will minimize unpredictable incidents of encounters and other forms of armed engagements by armed combatants from both sides. It was fine that both panels earlier declared unilateral declarations of ceasefires as a confidence-building measure to resume the talks. These ceasefires, however, were silent on mechanisms and clear provisions on how both sides will enforce their respective declarations. Example is the AFP’s continued operations for reason, it said, of civic-military missions and peace and order in the rural villages. If true, these movements could have been interpreted as “encroachments” into areas of NPA operations threatening its mass bases thus forcing the guerrillas to maintain a high alert of “active defense,” he added.
A bilateral ceasefire agreement, on the other hand, will clear any ambiguities that make unilateral ceasefires fragile by having well-defined provisions on lines of disengagements, demarcations, occupation, and “peace zones.” It will operationalize the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) with a system of monitoring and complaints mechanisms preferably with an independent third party like current facilitator, Norway. This element is critical because the peace talks involve national forces and center on the important agenda of social, economic, political, and constitutional reforms that may eventually be implemented nationwide.
The bilateral ceasefire committee can immediately assign the JMC to probe and resolve reports of ceasefire violations especially those that unfortunately happened since August, Tuazon added.
Prof. Temario C. Rivera said, "In the face of the breakdown of the peace talks, unleashing the dogs of war is an unmitigated disaster for our people. Both parties must do everything to push through with the peace process.” Rivera, CenPEG chair, said, government “must respect all earlier agreements on the peace process and allow all NDFP consultants to participate in the resumption of negotiations without fear of arrest or harassment. As a clear signal of its readiness to resume talks, the CPP-NPA-NDF can put all its armed units on a defensive mode and not to engage government forces unless attacked first."
The talks, which resumed with high mutual trust and confidence in August last year, has achieved breakthroughs in so short a time. Both the GRP and NDFP panels have exchanged drafts based on an agreed-upon framework with a proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and a Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR) which have been calendared for the next two rounds of talks beginning April. Both sides agreed that the two vital agenda can be concluded within the year.
“This level of talks is unprecedented and it would be unfortunate to allow the gains go to waste,” Tuazon said.
Meanwhile, the Asia for Development and Peace Today (ADePT) said that economic development as outlined in the government's socio-economic agenda topped by NEDA’s “Ambisyon 2040” and backed by the comprehensive framework for an anti-poverty agenda of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) cannot be realized without peace. The CASER as initially agreed by the panels promotes both programs for industrialization and land reform.
ADePT coordinator Evita L. Jimenez said, “We should learn from the past and from the experiences of other countries in pursuing peace and development. Taking the hard line and militarist approach will never succeed and will only prolong the agony of people and frustrate any meaningful development plans for the country.”
At the same time, CenPEG challenged the GRP to comply with the five basic agreements it reaffirmed last year. For instance, the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) mandated the GRP to abide by the Hernandez Doctrine which makes it unlawful to criminalize a political offense and to work out steps toward reviewing the cases of 400 plus political prisoners (PPs) presently detained, charged or convicted for “common crimes.” It is on record that during the talks, the GRP had pledged to work out the initial release of at least 130 PPs based on just and humanitarian grounds.
Tuazon said, in the spirit of continuing the peace talks, the NDFP through chief negotiator Fidel V. Agcaoili declared recently they are willing to scale down the number of PPs to be freed from 400 to 50 as soon as the CASER is signed within the year.
It is not just a matter of justice and compliance with CARHRIHL that the PPs should be set free but because they can play a productive role in supporting the completion of the peace talks and later on in implementing social, economic, and other reforms nationwide. The role of the Left in this area has been acknowledged by President Duterte himself and other Cabinet secretaries including DND chief Delfin Lorenzana who recently complimented the Cabinet progressives for doing “very good” and being “passionate” in their work.
CenPEG also said it supports calls from various sectors of society including legislators for both panels to go back to the negotiating table. War is a losing proposition that will drain public resources while peace process, given a chance, is always a win-win option.
No “total war” policy has ever succeeded since Marcos and full-scale anti-insurgency has only added fuel to the revolutionary movement of the CPP-NPA, Tuazon said.