DURING the last week of 2017, I asked Director Maria Carla Munsayac-Villarta of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Secretariat Head of the Government Panel three questions.
First, “The President has declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorists and therefore, negotiating with the CPP-NPA has been terminated. Curiously, the President did not declare the National Democratic Front as a terrorist organization. Does it mean that the GRP can still negotiate with the NDF sans the CPP- NPA?”
On the first week of this year, Director Villarta replied, “President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 360 on 23 November 2017 declaring the termination of the peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF due to its ‘failure to show sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and peaceful negotiations as it engaged in acts of violence and hostilities, endangering the lives and properties of innocent people’. Subsequently, Proclamation No. 374 was issued on 5 December 2017 declaring the CPP/NPA as a designated/identified terrorist organization. The termination of the peace negotiations was done before the CPP/NPA was declared as a terrorist organization.”
She continued, “OPAPP and the GRP Panel will continue to get guidance from the President’s declarations and pronouncements, including the resumption of the peace negotiations with the NDF at the appropriate time when an enabling environment is present that would facilitate the continuation and completion of the peace negotiations towards the signing of a final peace agreement.”
It seems quite clear that President Duterte left an opening for peace talks with the NDF to proceed in the future. However, as a seasoned poker player would do, he kept his cards very close to his chest that no one – not even his close friends’ Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza and Chief Government Negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III – could dare guess his next move.
I asked two more questions, “Joma Sison claims that a draft CASER is ready and can be signed by January 2018 if only PRRD will allow the Peace Talks to proceed. Does this statement have any basis in truth and in fact? What is the official statement of the GRP Panel about it?” and “What is the development of the CASER draft? What can you publicly state in line with the 3 principles underlying the comprehensive peace process?”
Director Villarta responded to both questions, “Mr. Joma Sison is probably referring to the chapters on a) agrarian reform and rural development, and on b) national industrialization, two issues of around 10-12 issues which are considered the lynchpin of the negotiations under CASER. Everyone who is involved in the negotiations agrees that if these two issues were resolved by both sides, the rest of the substantive issues under CASER would face very little difficulty in being negotiated.”
“It must be understood that the two chapters referred to above have already been initiated at the level of the Bilateral Teams, the most basic negotiating units of the GRP and NDFP. It will still go through a vetting process through two more levels at both sides of the negotiating table: the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) and the Negotiating Panels.
Villarta considered as the institutional memory on negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF, continued, “Once the whole CASER is approved by the Panels, a new vetting process will occur on both sides. On the side of GRP, it will be submitted to the Cabinet, and finally, the President for approval. Those issues that need to be translated into laws (in the form of new laws; amendment to existing laws; provision of oversight; allocation of budget) will be submitted to Congress for action. Those that need executive action will be addressed by the government action and transformed into programs. It is noteworthy that representatives of key government agencies and of Congress have been involved in the whole process of the Peace Talks so that the level of difficulty is reduced. The GRP has also been consulting with the different sectors of society and has started the process for regional consultations starting with the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR)”
It is heartwarming to note that OPAPP is actually open to amending or proposing laws to ensure that agreements will be carried through and implemented. However, the consultation process has seemed to be limited to those in government. Reading between the lines, the Filipino people will be consulted “after” the CASER has already been approved.
A question, therefore, comes to mind, “Are the provision stipulated in the CASER which is practically the meat of the Final Peace Agreement in consonance with relevant provisions of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law
Finally, Villarta declared, “It is a primordial objective of the GRP Peace Panel, and all its negotiating units, to accelerate the achievement of a just and lasting peace in the country. The January target stated by Mr. Joma Sison for CASER signing is optimistically within range of being achieved if aided by an enabling environment for the continuation of the talks and less the complicating factors external or related to CASER that have been cited by the President as reasons for termination of the peace negotiations, such as the hesitance of the NDFP to sign a rule-based bilateral ceasefire; collection of revolutionary taxes; and destruction of civilian lives and property.”
Considering that the negotiations have already taken almost a quarter of a century, it is a relief, albeit eyebrow-raising, to note that negotiators are optimistic that, indeed, an agreement on the CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms) can be inked, much more, signed within one month given the tedious process that it has to undergo.
“Overall, OPAPP has never abandoned the principles underlying the peace process. It considers the latest termination by the President of the peace negotiations as a mere part of the many humps and bumps towards the achievement of peace. Thus, the NDFP, and not GRP alone, has a big role to play in providing the enabling environment for the resumption of the peace negotiations,” Villarta concluded.
Director Vallarta’s conclusion is very heartwarming. However, her statement did not mention the important role of the Filipino people which is clearly stated as one of the principles of the comprehensive peace process, to wit, “A comprehensive peace process should be community-based, reflecting the sentiments, values, and principles important to all Filipinos. Thus, it shall not be defined by the government alone, nor by the contending forces only, but by all Filipinos as one community.”
As a final note as the Organizer of Yes for Peace – Bayanihan ng Bayan, I have requested Director Villarta for a copy of the draft chapters on a) agrarian reform and rural development, and on b) national industrialization in my reply to her response discussed above. In behalf of those who are actively behind our campaign, I look forward to receiving these within the fifteen (15) days from my request. After all, Director Villarta has regularly responded to our requests within the mandated period for government officials and employees to answer queries of Filipino citizens. (RONDA Balita Online News)