Resume peace talks, resume interim ceasefires

Sison et al. cite at least 10 major agreements that have been sealed since the Ramos administration of 1992-98 despite the continued fighting. But only one of those is considered a substantive agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). That is only the first of four major substantive agenda items under the framework Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. Just one substantive agreement in nearly 25 years or one generation! That is already “untenable,” to use the CPP-NPA’s description of the unilateral interim ceasefires. Compare that to the two years from the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro to the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in the peace talks cum ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the Aquino administration.

We have precisely “been there, done that” already with fighting while talking for the most part of several decades of the GRP-NDFP peace process since 1992, more so if we count from the first round in 1986-87. It’s about time that we try talking and listening without fighting where the latter is understood to be for a reasonable interim period only of an estimated (by the CPP leadership and the NDFP Panel) two years or so to possibly work out comprehensive agreements on socio-economic and politico-constitutional reforms. The Rome Joint Statement indicated fair, if not good, advances on this. Indeed, as an NDFP partisan said, “the aim of the talks is not just to end the fighting but also to address the roots of the armed conflict.” But in the meantime, for a reasonable period, can the fighting (just this, not other forms of struggle) not be put on hold as a “specific measure of goodwill and confidence-building to create a favorable climate for peace negotiations”? This is not yet for the “end of hostilities and disposition of forces.” A mere interim ceasefire in this context is not “tantamount to the capitulation and pacification of the revolutionary people and forces.” AND at the end of that reasonable period, IF good faith negotiations still fail to achieve substantive reform agreements, THEN a return to armed struggle would be understandable or even justified, depending also on the circumstances.

It is fair, not only by the GRP but also by all peace-loving Filipinos, to raise a privileged question of sincerity about talking peace while fighting a war. As we had written a number of years back, why continue to fight a war if the peace talks are “successful” so far, especially in working towards comprehensive agreements on substantive reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict? Why suffer the loss of precious lives, including of thy comrades, in the meantime if these are going to be achieved? Or does the desire to continue armed struggle indicate an expectation or worse, an intention, that the peace talks will ultimately fail?

By the CPP-NPA’s termination of its unilateral interim ceasefire (followed suit by the GRP), it has in effect (or as intended?) preempted an interim bilateral ceasefire already scheduled for another meeting of the two ceasefire committees.  One relevant simple question that nobody seems to be asking is: are both sides willing to reinstate the prematurely terminated unilateral ceasefires as an important “compelling reason,” or “key link,” or key gesture (as far as President Duterte is concerned), to reverse the premature announcement of an "all-out war" and the premature scrapping of the peace talks? The simple proposition is that it is only right and that all that have been prematurely done should be undone before it can no longer be undone. –

Soliman M. Santos Jr is presently the Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 in Naga City. He is the author of a number of books, including Justice of the Peace: The Work of a First-Level Court Judge in the Rinconada District of Camarines Sur (Quezon City: Central Books, 2015). He has been a political activist and martial law detainee; a long-time human rights and international humanitarian lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer.