PH gov't, NDF approve peace pact frameworks

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine government and the communist National Democratic Front (NDF) made headway at the negotiating table, agreeing on the frameworks of 3 "substantive agenda" that will complete the final peace pact to end Asia's longest-running communist insurgency. 

"Today is doubly significant because we are signing the 2nd round joint statement on the the very day that we are celebrating and marking a milestone in the Duterte administration milestone, the 100th day of his incumbency," said chief presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza during the closing ceremony of the 2nd round of talks in Norway on Sunday, October 9. 

An agreement on the common outlines is the "most essential success that has been achieved," said Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder and NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison. (DOCUMENT: PH, NDF joint statement on the 2nd round of talks)

The outlines enumerate discussion points on 1) social and economic reforms, 2) political and constitutional reforms, and 3) end of hostilities and disposition of assets. They were attached to the joint statement signed by the government and NDF panels. 

"The schedule of fleshing out of the outlines and eventual exchange of drafts for the tentative comprehensive agreements have been further firmed up," Sison said.

Among the discussion points on social and economic reforms, for example, is "agrarian reform and rural development" and "national industrialization and economic development." The panels will need to flesh out the discusson points in terms of policy to come up with the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). The same thing goes for the other items on the agenda.

Joint ceasefire agreement within October

The panels are also expected to submit by October 26 a draft bilateral ceasefire agreement that will establish rules for the military and the New People's Army (NPA) to follow in order to avoid misencounters.

The unilateral ceasefires currently in place have stopped clashes, but there are reports that both the military and the NPA combatants are growing restless, protesting against each other's activities. (READ: Communist rebels to Duterte: Tame the military)

"If I may propose, the signing of the joint ceasefire agreement be held in Davao in the presence of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the prime mover of this historic peace process," said government chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III. 

The NDF also continued to press for the immediate release of 434 NDF detainees. "I reiterate that the amnesty and release of political prisoners will be a big incentive to the attainment of a more stable joint or bilateral ceasefire and to the acceleration fo peace process," said Sison.

Bello responded that they would work hard to release all the 434. "We will not give you timelines, but we will deliver the expectations of the NDF/CPP/NPA." (READ: PH starts process of freeing 434 'political prisoners')

Ambitious timeline

Back in 1998, the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CAHRIHL) was signed during the administration of President Fidel Ramos. It is the 1st substantive agenda of the peace process that has since been stuck on CASER. 

To accelerate the process, both panels agreed to create sub-panels that will simultaneously prepare drafts on CASER, the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reform (CAPCR), and the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (CAEHDF). These drafts will be finalized by the panels. 

The government has an ambitious timeline of completing the peace process by August 2017 to give the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte enough time to implement the agreements.

"With these frameworks and outlines, we are right on schedule. We expect a final peace agreement after one year so we can devote 5 more years of President Rodrigo Duterte's term [to] implementing the reforms agreed upon by both parties," Bello said.

'Heart and soul' of peace process

CASER, which will focus on agrarian reform and national industrialization, is considered the "heart and soul" of the peace process. It is meant to address the root cause of conflict.

The discussions were heated and hit a snag when the NDF challenged inputs from the government negotiators, on the ground that they lacked "elaborations." Both sides blamed each other for the delay.  (READ: PH, NDF talks hit a snag but both camps remain committed)

"That a framework on socio-economic reforms has already been agreed by the parties is already a big step forward towards resolving the almost 5-decade old rebellion in our country," said Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate, part of a 6-member House of Representatives observer team to the second round of talks.

The discussion points for CASER are the following: 

The government sub-panel is chaired by human rights lawyer and former political detainee Efren Moncupa and supervised by panel member Hernani Braganza. The NDF is led by its panel member Juliet De Lima-Sison. They committee aims to submit a draft within 6 to 9 months. 

Bello assured the NDF that reforms on agrarian reform and national industrialization will already be implemented even before the completion of the peace process. 

"We need not wait for the conclusion of a final peace agreement before Filipinos enjoy the fruits of concurrent peace negotiations," he said. 

Political and constitutional reforms

The sub-panel tackling political and constitutional reforms is expected to fully complete its work by January 2017 for submission to the panels. 

The discussions on political and constitutional reforms are the following:

The government sub-panel on PCR is chaired by Dean Sedfrey Candelaria of the Ateneo Law School and supervised by panel member Rene Sarmiento. The NDF side is led by Communist Party founding chairman Jose Maria Sison.

CAEHDF: The final stage

Negotiations for the CAEHDF will be the final stage in the peace process. 

The discussion points are the following: 

The government sub-panel  is chaired by Defense Assistant Secretary Teodoro Torralba III and supervised by panel members Antonio Arellano and Angela Trinidad. The NDF side is led by Wilma Tiamzon as chairperson and Benito Tiamzon as vice chair. – Rappler.com