Status of GPH peace talks with NDFP and MILF by Rommel Banlaoi

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Status of GPH peace talks with NDFP and MILF by Rommel Banlaoi

  1. 1. [85]Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF Rommel C. Banlaoi
  2. 2. [86] Autonomy and Peace Review
  3. 3. [87]Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILFRommel C. Banlaoi(This paper is taken from a speech delivered by the author at the 4th Peace andUnity International Forum organized by the Unity for Revival Foundationand the Damayan Advocacy Alliance at the Manila Hotel on 16 April 2011.The author is the Chairman of the Board and Executive Director PhilippineInstitute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research. He received the PeacePrice Award for 2011 at the 4th Peace and Unity International Forum.) I am tasked today to discuss the status of peacetalks of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) withthe National Democratic Front of the Philippines(NDFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Let me begin by stressing that the currentgovernment is on the right track of pursuing negotiatedpolitical settlement of all armed conflicts in thePhilippines, particularly with the NDFP and the MILF.This indicates that the current dispensation is highlyinformed of the necessity to seriously pursue the trackof peace negotiations with the NDFP and the MILFwhile at the same time upholding the complementarytrack of sincerely addressing the roots of armed conflictsin the Philippines. There is no doubt that that pursuing these twotracks is much easier said than done, especially when wepay attention to specific issues where differences of allparties are inevitably found.
  4. 4. [88] Autonomy and Peace Review But the main principle behind any negotiation isto really look for a common ground. The process towardsthe finding of a common ground is already a gargantuanchallenge that all parties have to face squarely andcandidly. Despite all these difficulties and challenges, whatis important is that pursuing the peace process andaddressing the roots of armed conflicts have beenaccorded high priority in the national security agendaof the present government. This is better than wagingan all out war that breeds more hatred, despair andviolence; a war that creates internally displaced persons,destroys private properties and critical infrastructures,and opens the gates for many forms of human rightsviolations and abuses. On the GPH peace talks with the NDFP, bothparties made a landmark effort on 14-18 January 2011when they held preliminary negotiations in Oslo, Norway.With the facilitation of the Royal NorwegianGovernment (RNG), the GPH-NDFP mutually agreedto prepare for the resumption of the formal peace talkafter being discontinued in 2004. The GPH-NDFP formally resumed their formalpeace negotiations on 15-21 February 2011 where bothparties agreed to an 18-month timeframe for completingtheir draft comprehensive agreement on the following
  5. 5. Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF [89]agenda: socio-economic reforms, political-constitutionalreforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces. For the Philippine Government, the resumptionof the GPH-NDFP Peace Talks is an essential componentof its national peace and development agenda. GPHhas expressed its strong determination to finally reach anegotiated political settlement with the CommunistParty of the Philippines-New People’’s Army-NationalDemocratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), or CNN (to use themilitary acronym) so that resources of the governmentwill be used for nation-building and nationalreconciliation rather than counterinsurgency operationsthat further divide our nation. President Benigno AquinoIII has even strongly pursued a three-year time framefor the conclusion of an agreement so that the remainingthree years of his office will be devoted not anymore fortalks but for the implementation of the agreement. For the NDFP, the resumption of the peace talk isalso necessary to finally address the long neglected rootsof armed conflicts in the Philippines. However, theNDFP takes a long-term view of the peace talkscompared with a three-year time frame of thegovernment. While the NDFP cautiously sees someshort-term prospects for the resumption of peace talkswith the government, it also sees some seeminglyinevitable pitfalls in the long run that can unnecessarilyobstruct the success of the implementation of any peaceagreement. For the NDFP, the main objective of the
  6. 6. [90] Autonomy and Peace Reviewpeace talks is to find just and lasting solution thecountry’’s internal armed conflict, which particularlymeans more than the cessation of hostilities betweenthe two parties. While the position of NDFP converges with thesecond track of the government’’s peace anddevelopment paradigm, addressing the roots of armedconflicts with the local communist movement requiresconcomitant political, economic, social and constitutionalreforms that the present government and beyond shouldbe willing to champion. But these reform issues aresubject to the vagaries of domestic politics in thePhilippines where there are more players, morestakeholders and more interests to consider. Addressingall these issues are undoubtedly already beyond thecontrol of the two negotiating parties. In the Oslo meeting last February 2011, the GPHand the NDFP agreed to hold three bilateral meetingsof the Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on Socialand Economic Reforms (SER) scheduled in June andAugust 2011. These meetings aim to discuss a wide arrayof sensitive but very important issues such as ““agrarianreform and rural development”” for the NDFP and ““assetreform”” for the GPH, and ““national industrialization”” forthe NDFP and ““industrial policy”” for the GPH.”” Thesemeetings are essential to come up with theComprehensive Agreement on the Socio-EconomicReforms (CASER), which for the NDFP is crucial to
  7. 7. Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF [91]strategically address the roots of armed conflicts in thePhilippines. They also agreed to hold initial session ofthe Working Groups on Political and ConstitutionalReforms (PCR) this month and every two monthsthereafter with the ardent hope to convene a meetingof RWCs on PCR in October 2011. Meetings of RWCson PCR are essential to come-up with the ComprehensiveAgreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms(CAPCR), which both parties deem vital to address theroots of armed violence in the country.We can wait and see where all these processes will lead usto. But we can also influence the outcome of the GPH-NDFP peace talks if we will participate in the manyconsultations and dialogues being organized by bothparties. On the GPH peace talks with the MILF, the firstformal negotiation was held on 9-10 February 2011 inKuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which serves as the facilitator. For the MILF, the meeting was its 20th formalexploratory talks with the GPH but the first formalmeeting of the GPH under the Aquino administration.In this meeting, both parties tackled three fundamentalissues: 1) Review and amendment of the Terms ofReference of the International Monitoring Team (IMT);2) Review and amendment of the ImplementingGuidelines of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG);
  8. 8. [92] Autonomy and Peace Reviewand 3) Draft of the Comprehensive Compact submittedby the MILF. On the IMT, both parties agreed to renew theirmandate for another year. On the AHJAG, both partiesreaffirmed their commitments to continue their jointefforts in ““coordinating the isolation and interdiction””of criminal or lawless elements of the MILF. On theDraft Comprehensive Compact, the GPH requested moretime to review and study the draft and to come-out witha government proposal. For the government, entering into another talkwith the MILF is part of healing the wounds created bythe controversies surrounding the Memorandum ofAgreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). Talkswith the MILF also demonstrates the desire of thegovernment promote peace in Mindanao so that its longoverdue development will follow. The conflict affectedareas of Mindanao are very rich in natural and strategicresources that can be harnessed for the economicdevelopment not only of the whole island but also ofthe entire archipelago. The GPH and the MILF agreed to hold anothermeeting on 29-30 March 2011. But it was postponed to27-28 April 2011. In my opinion, one major issue that caused thepostponement of the meeting was the status of
  9. 9. Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF [93]Commander Umbra Kato who has been reported to haveformed his own armed group, the Bangsamoro IslamicFreedom Fighter (BIFF). The BIFF aims to continuethe armed struggle of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination. For me, the status of Commander Kato and hisBIFF will pose a major challenge to the success of theGPH-MILF peace talks. Even if an agreement is signedbetween the GPH and the MILF, it will not guaranteethe ending of armed conflicts in Mindanao because thereis still another significant armed group that can disturbthe peace. The group of Commander Kato, which is believedto have more than 1,000 armed followers, has become aresidual armed group - a party to the conflict but not aparty to the peace agreement. The reported connectionof Commander Kato with some commanders of the AbuSayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyaah (JI), lawlesselements of the MILF, rouge factions of the MoroNational Liberation Front (MNLF), and New People’’sArmy (NPA) complicates the already complex situationin Mindanao. We all hope for peace! But there are rough roads topeace. In GPH talks with the NDFP and the MILF, theroad to peace is disturbed by many related issues thatalso contribute to the perpetuation of internal armedconflicts in the country.
  10. 10. [94] Autonomy and Peace Review One issue is the needed closure to related peace talkswith communist break away groups emanating fromRebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa––Pilipinas(RPM-P)/ Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA)/AlexBoncayao Brigade (ABB) and the RebolusyonaryongPartido ng Manggagawa––Mindanao (RPM-M). Unlesswe put a closure on these issues, the road to peace on thecommunist front will not be easy. Another concomitant issue is the completeimplementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement with theGPH and the MNLF and the 1986 Peace Agreementwith the GPH and Cordillera People’’s Liberation Army(CPLA). If these agreements are not implementedcompletely, it will pose a challenge to the credibility ofthe government to implement another agreement withanother armed group on the Moro front. In fact, thereare factions of the MNLF that aims to pursue armedstruggle because of their dissatisfaction with theimplementation of the 1996 Agreement. As long asthere are dissatisfied armed groups willing to pursuearmed struggle, ending internal armed conflicts will bedifficult. A related issue that can obstruct the GPH talkswith the NDFP and the MILF is the concern of theIndigenous Peoples (IPs) who are also asserting theirrightful role in the peace process. Many IPs live in theconflict affected areas of the Philippines. They are alwayscaught in the crossfire and their ancestral domains are,
  11. 11. Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF [95]more often than not, the battlegrounds of internal armedconflicts in the country, whether in the communist orMoro fronts. IPs have tremendous stakes in the outcomeof the peace process. Thus, putting IP issues andconcerns in the agenda of the peace process is essentialfor the success of GPH talks with the NDFP and theMILF. Otherwise, it will not prevent IPs to armthemselves to advance their rights to self-determination.In fact, there are already some Indigenous Peoples ArmedGroups (IPAGs) all over the country and the success ofthe peace process will prevent them to furtherproliferation. Also an important issue is the existence of privatearmed groups (PAGs) all over the country. According toofficial government estimate, there are 132 PAGS in thePhilippines. For me, that is a very conservative estimateconsidering that many politicians associated with politicaldynasties in the country have their own private armies.Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that PAGs alsocontribute to internal armed conflicts. Some people joinarmed rebel groups because of the oppression ormaltreatment they experienced from PAGs. The peaceprocess must therefore address the eventualdismantlement of PAGs. Though the previousgovernment has formed a commission for this purpose,its power was only recommendatory nature. The job toreally dismantle PAGs belongs to our law enforcementauthorities.
  12. 12. [96] Autonomy and Peace Review The final issue that has bearing on the peace processis the role of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).The AFP, which is mandated by the Constitution toprotect the people and the state, already launched theOplan Bayanihan highlighting non-military approachesto address internal armed conflicts in the Philippines. Inthe Oplan Bayanihan, military forces are instructed torespect human rights and implement internationalhumanitarian law in the conduct of counter-insurgencyoperations. It recognizes that ending armed conflicts inthe country requires the participation of the whole nationand not only the military. This is a paradigm shift in themilitary thinking of insurgency problems. But havingfought the insurgency for more than four decades, killingthe old habits of counter-insurgency operations will alsotake time. In the peace process therefore, preparing theAFP for post-conflict missions must also be addressed. Military budget for traditional counter-insurgencyoperations must eventually be cut to demonstrate thatthe AFP is truly expecting peace in the land. Instead,there must be increased military budget for post-conflictmissions such as peacekeeping, peace-building disastermanagement and essential military operations other thanwar. All these issues are in fact clarion call for us to bemore unrelenting in our advocacy for peace. As whatRobert Fulghum says, ““Peace is not something you wishfor, it’’s something you make, something you do,something you are, and something you give away.””
  13. 13. Status of GPH Peace Talks with NDFP and MILF [97] With this brief presentation, I truly hope that Ihave added value to our discussions today.Thank you very much and Mabuhay!

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