More and more Filipinos are now looking forward to seemingly bright prospects of peace between the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) and the government of the Philippines (GPH). The media plays an important role in making the public understand the ongoing peace talks.
However, reportage of the substantial aspects of the peace talks can be sometimes lacking, even erroneous. This A-Z list breaks down key peace talks-related concepts, in an attempt to jumpstart a deeper understanding of this significant development that speaks a lot about the Filipino people’s clamor—and struggle—for change.
A – Armed conflict
Both sides are engaged in armed conflict. Armed struggle is an integral part of the revolution that groups under the NDFP are waging since 1969. The two conflicting sides, the NDFP and GPH, have agreed to hold peace negotiations to address the roots of armed conflict and lay the grounds for a just and lasting peace.
B – Belligerency vs. Insurgency
The NDFP considers itself a belligerent, and not an insurgent force. What’s the difference?
Rebel forces can be recognized as belligerents. Once the status of belligerency is established between two or more states, their relations are determined and governed by international laws of war.
A European Parliament resolution, dated December 13, 1990, endorsed the peace process and named the GPH and NDF as equal parties to the armed conflict. Past signed agreements between the GPH and NDFP also affirmed the status of the NDFP as a co-belligerent in the civil war.
C – Cessation of Hostilities, Capitulation & Ceasefire
The Hague Joint Declaration, the agreed framework of the GPH-NDFP peace talks, puts the “end of hostilities” only after social, economic, and political issues at the root of the armed conflict have been addressed. Ever since, the NDFP had been negotiating for peace – or the Cessation of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces – based on agreements on these issues (also called the “substantive agenda” of the peace talks).
This differentiates it from capitulation, which simply means the surrender of revolutionary forces.
A ceasefire, meanwhile, is defined in modern dictionaries as “an agreement to stop fighting a war for a period of time so that a permanent agreement can be made to end the war.” Clearly, it neither means a permanent cessation of hostilities nor capitulation.
The NDFP has in past negotiations scored the GPH for demanding a ceasefire as a “precondition” to the resumption of peace talks, or as a means of capitulation.
D – Democratic reforms
During the opening of the formal talks on August 22, NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison said that the people can benefit from “bourgeois democratic reforms” in the next six years if the negotiations are successful.
These democratic reforms, he said, include national sovereignty and territorial integrity; the democratic empowerment of the working people, social justice, economic development through national industrialization and land reform; expanded free public education, a patriotic and progressive kind of culture; and international solidarity of all peoples and trade and diplomatic relations with all countries.
E – Economic Reforms
Socio-economic reforms – often referred to as the “meat” of the negotiations – are up next on the substantive agenda of the peace talks. These reforms are to be encapsulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). In the ongoing talks, both sides have agreed to exert their best effort to finish CASER in six months starting September.
Both sides, through Reciprocal Working Committees, have actually exchanged working drafts of the CASER. But because the talks have barely progressed in recent years, there have been no substantive discussions in these reforms yet, which NDFP chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni describes as “major, major.”
F – Final Peace Agreement
The Duterte administration has expressed that it wants a Final Peace Agreement in nine to 12 months. Under The Hague Joint Declaration, such an agreement can be forged after agreements on the substantive agenda have been made (also see, Hague Joint Declaration). So far, only the agreement on human rights – the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) – has been signed.
In the ongoing formal peace talks in Oslo, both parties agreed to talk about an “accelerated process of negotiations” but also affirmed that they will go through the remaining three substantive agendas.
G – General Amnesty
Former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos both released hundreds of political prisoners by granting general amnesty.
Even before he assumed presidency, Duterte also promised to free all political prisoners through general amnesty. Thus, during the preliminary talks, both peace panels agreed to talk about an amnesty proclamation for all political prisoners, “subject to concurrence by Congress.” Later, Duterte would seem to take back this promise, saying that amnesty will be given only after communist leaders “laid down their arms.”
Even without the resumption of formal peace talks, human rights groups have been calling for a “general, unconditional, and omnibus amnesty” for all political prisoners, on the basis of trumped-up charges in violation of the CARHRIHL and the Hernandez doctrine. (also see, Release of Political Prisoners)
H – Hague Joint Declaration
The 1992 Hague Joint Declaration is a landmark document that set the framework for the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. It stated that the common goal of both parties is to reach a “just and lasting peace” by resolving the roots of the armed conflict. It sets the substantive agenda of the peace talks in the following order:
- Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law
- Socio-Economic Reforms
- Political and Constitutional Reforms
- Cessation of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces
The declaration also prohibits the setting of “preconditions” that will “negate the inherent character and purpose of the peace negotiations.” The Aquino administration, however, refused to honor the agreement and called The Hague Joint declaration a “document of perpetual division.”
I – International Humanitarian Law
International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is made up of principles and guidelines which aims to limit on humanitarian grounds the effects of armed conflict. It covers two areas: giving protection to civilians; and setting restrictions on the forms and methods of fighting.
By signing the CARHRIHL in 1998, both parties agreed to apply IHL in the conduct of war. This includes, among others, the humane treatment even of combatants, and not targeting civilians as objects of attack.
J – JASIG
On the basis of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), signed in 1995, all peace negotiators, consultants, staffers, security and other personnel who participate in the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations are guaranteed immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation.
The peace talks was previously stalled because past administrations refused to honor the JASIG and arrested JASIG holders. The GPH questioned the identity of NDFP JASIG holders using aliases, leading both parties to undergo a verification process in 2011. The verification process was conducted at the Rabobank in Utrecht, where the photos that would identify the alias-holders were deposited. But the files for decryption were corrupted because of an earlier Dutch police raid on the NDFP international office.
In the current negotiations, the GPH has just agreed to the reconstitution of the NDFP’s JASIG list. Both sides have agreed to reconstitute two lists: one of publicly-known figures and one of underground figures holding aliases.
This achievement is a far cry from the previous stands of the GPH, which demanded that JASIG holders should “remain visibly aboveground” or “visibly participating in the peace negotiations”—even if there is no such existing agreement and such a demand not feasible. “Many of the consultations being conducted by the NDFP are done in the guerrilla areas beyond observation by the GPH,” explained the Philippine Peace Center.
K – ‘Kaliwa’ or Left
The NDFP is considered “Kaliwa” or Left. This is a political term commonly used for groups or forces opposing the system and pushing for radical social change. There are different types of being Left, the most radical are movements like the NDFP that use armed struggle to attain social change. Other types are the unarmed and aboveground Left, composed of a mass movement of peasants, workers, youth, etc.
The revolutionary forces under the NDFP are the ones participating in the formal peace talks. President Duterte offered Cabinet posts to the CPP, but it declined. It said that the underground revolutionary movement cannot participate in government before the successful conclusion of the peace talks.
L – Landmines
President Duterte has threatened to cancel the peace talks over the NPA’s use of landmines. The NDFP, however, was quick to point out that the NPA only uses command-activated landmines, which are actually allowed under the Geneva Convention.
Command-Activated Explosives (CDX) are distinguished from Anti-Personnel Mines (APM), which explode upon “the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” To protect civilian casualties, APM are banned for use internationally.
On the other hand, “CDX landmines, which NPA units manufacture carefully, will not explode simply if it is stepped on, tripped upon or kicked around,” the CPP explained. It further said that CDX landmines are always manned or within the immediate proximity of the NPA unit that emplaced them: “There has yet to be an incident where a CDX landmine laid by the NPA was accidentally exploded by a civilian.” An independent study by the NGO Balay Kalinaw actually attested to that.
M – Monitoring Committee
The Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) – composed of members of the GPH and NDFP, as well as their nominated representatives – was set up in 2004 to monitor the implementation of the CARHRIHL. Despite an agreement to meet every three months, however, the JMC was not allowed to convene by the GPH panel and remains largely inoperative.
Nonetheless, the Joint Secretariat (JS), which was formed to provide technical and administrative assistance to the committee, continues to accept complaints of human rights violations against either the GPH or the NDFP. A total of 6,397 human rights violations complaints have been filed at the JS office in Cubao, Quezon City (as of 23 May 2016). A total of 4,471 complaints have been filed against the GPH and 1,926 complaints against the NDFP.
N – National sovereignty, democracy and social justice
These are the declared mutually acceptable principles that serve as the framework of the peace negotiations between the GPH and NDFP, as stated in The Hague Joint Declaration.
Previous peace negotiators under Aquino insisted that these principles were never agreed upon. However, this claim has now been reversed as the ongoing formal peace talks in Oslo just affirmed these principles as part of honoring previously-signed agreements.
O – Oslo
Formal peace talks are currently held in Oslo, the capital of Norway, ever since the Royal Norwegian Government was designated as the Third-Party Facilitator in 2001. Before that, they were held in Brussels, Belgium. Why are the peace talks are being held thousands of miles away? Because the JASIG affirmed that a “foreign neutral venue” conducive to “free discussion and free movement” of all participants during negotiations is crucial.
P – Political and Constitutional Reforms
The third substantive agenda, before a comprehensive final peace agreement can be achieved. No drafts for an agreement on political and constitutional reforms have yet been exchanged, as the peace talks have not progressed that far. Nonetheless, these would have to be based on agreed upon socio-economic reforms, the agenda which it succeeds. The NDFP has said that many of the socio-economic reforms it proposes would require political and “major constitutional changes.”
Q – Question of Unity or Coalition
President Duterte has repeatedly said that he is engaging in peace talks because he wants to “unify” the country. Similarly, the NDFP has said that it aims to forge an agreement with the current administration to establish a government of “national unity, peace and development,” based on Duterte’s previously declared openness to a “coalition government” with the revolutionary movement.
However, Duterte has backtracked on his earlier statement on a coalition government, saying that is “complicated,” and that what he wants and offers is an “inclusive” government instead.
R – Release of Political Prisoners
Political prisoners are persons jailed for his or her political beliefs. The GPH is actually prohibited from criminalizing political offenses under the CARHRIHL and the Hernandez doctrine.
Based on the 1959 case vs. National Artist Amado V. Hernandez, the Hernandez doctrine is jurisprudence that says that rebellion cannot be compounded with common crimes such as murder, arson, or illegal possession of firearms.
The GPH has often accused the NDFP of demanding the release of political prisoners as a “precondition” to the resumption of peace talks. But the NDFP has clarified that it is actually an obligation by the GPH under previous agreements, particularly the CARHRIHL and JASIG.
Currently, more than 500 political prisoners are still detained.
S – SOMO/SOPO
The unilateral ceasefire declared by President Duterte during his first State of the Nation Address was actually only officialized by a “Suspension of Military Offensives” (SOMO) order issued on July 26, and a “Suspension of Police Offensives” (SOPO) order issued on July 27.
However, the SOMO ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to continue “civil-military” operations in communities. The CPP says that operations are a mere “euphemism” for actual combat and harassment of civilians, which they reported to have been continued by the AFP during the short-lived ceasefire. A case in point is the strafing of a Lumad wedding reception in Bukidnon by paramilitaries searching for an alleged NPA leader last July 30, while the unilateral ceasefire was still in effect.
Meanwhile, the SOPO ordered the police to continue “legal offensives,” which for the NDFP means the fabrication of charges of common crimes against social activists and suspected rebels.
T – Truce
A truce is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a suspension of fighting, especially of considerable duration, by agreement of opposing forces.” In news reports, Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration was loosely interchanged with the word “truce” – implying therefore that the NDFP violated an agreement when there was clearly none.
Satur Ocampo, former NDFP negotiator, provides additional insight on what constitutes a truce: “A truce would be a formal agreement, usually in writing, between two parties in an armed conflict that doesn’t simply entail a stop to offensive military operations. More importantly, a truce defines the political objectives to be worked out in bilateral negotiations to resolve the conflict, absent the fighting on the ground.”
U – US government’s role
The active role of the US government in “sabotaging” the peace talks has always been a contention raised by the NDFP. In past negotiations, the US government’s terrorist listing of the CPP-NPA-NDFP and Prof. Jose Ma. Sison – recommended and upheld by the GPH – has acted as a significant roadblock to peace. In 1999, when the GPH under the Estrada administration entered into a Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, the NDFP considered it “a violation of national sovereignty” and of The Hague Joint Declaration.
This should be unsurprising, as the NDFP has declared that their struggle is a continuation of the unfinished 1896 Revolution against US imperialism. Its revolutionary forces are waging a “people’s war” against foreign domination and national oppression carried out through the GPH, basically seen “as a puppet government in the service of the US government.”
V – Violation of Ceasefire
The July 27 incident that killed a CAFGU was publicly treated by the GPH as an alleged ceasefire violation, despite the fact that, as the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) put it, “a unilateral ceasefire can only be violated by the same party that declared it.”
The CPP meanwhile said that a bilateral exchange of unilateral ceasefires would have determined “ways of preventing armed skirmishes, misunderstandings and miscommunication.” Later, both sides issued separate but simultaneous unilateral ceasefire declarations at the start of the formal peace talks.
W – Why AFP Should Pull-out from Communities
Even without a ceasefire, people’s organizations have demanded the immediate pull-out of military troops from civilian communities. According to human rights groups, militarization of civilian communities—as part of counterinsurgency programs—results in gross human rights violations including extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests of community leaders, and the displacement of thousands of rural families.
In working for peace, the CPP says what is most important and urgent is the withdrawal of AFP troops from civilian communities, community schools, barangay halls and health centers. It hopes that the Duterte administration will put an end to the state war against civilians.
X – Exercise of Goodwill
Goodwill measures to create a favorable atmosphere for the peace talks in the past included the release of prisoners-of-war held by the NPA, and political prisoners held by the GPH – although ever since the JASIG was signed, the NDFP has asserted that the release, particularly of its consultants and staff, is nothing less than an obligation of the GPH.
A ceasefire, bilateral or unilateral, can also be considered a goodwill measure.
Y – Yes to Just and Lasting Peace
Why do peace advocates always say they want a “just and lasting” peace? Because it says so in the Hague Joint Declaration itself: that ending the decades-old civil war though peace negotiations must be towards achieving not just peace – as in the absence of war – but peace that is “just and lasting,” as in the absence of the root causes of war.
Z – IndustrialiZation and agrarian reform
National industrialization and genuine agrarian reform are the twin pillars of the socio-economic reforms being pushed by the NDFP to address the country’s persistent poverty and social inequality. “We will be working on land reform and rural development…Of course, the most important thing is national industrialization. We have to put the Philippines on a good industrial footing so that it can develop economically… I think it’s going to be a fairly long process of negotiations,” said Juliet De Lima, chair of the RWC on Socio-Economic Reforms for the NDFP.
Research by Ilang-Ilang Quijano and Rhea Padilla