So the government just announced the resumption of peace talks between the CPP/NPA. Reading the headline brought back memories during my stint as Labor Attaché of Rome in 2016-17, where I had the opportunity to witness the third round of peace negotiations between the government and the CPP-NPA in Rome, Italy on January 19-25.
The government panel chief negotiator was then Secretary of Labor and Employment (SecLab) Silvestre Bello, my boss in the DOLE. For a week I served as his quasi-executive assistant being the host as head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Rome. I was assisted by our Welfare Officer (OWWA staff) who is at present the Labor Attaché of Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia, two administrative staff from DOLE and a locally hired (OFW from Cebu) driver. Everyday for seven days we, woke up very early and slept late just to be able to provide timely and appropriate administrative and technical assistance to our SecLab.
The third round was seen as a “make or break” negotiation as it tackled the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations, the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms.
It was reported by a special envoy Elisabeth Slattum that draft proposals have already been exchanged much earlier, which was described as the most comprehensive so far, even “ambitious.” Slattum was the representative of the Royal Norwegian Government, which hosted the peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the NDF, which included the CPP and the NPA. “Our hope as third party facilitator is that the third round of talks can bring us one step closer to that common goal,” Slattum was quoted as saying in a press release from the Office of the Presidential adviser on Peace Process.
The Philippine Government sent a high-level delegation that had Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Liza Masa, and nine members of the House of Representatives led by Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali, Chair of the House Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, as observers, along with the government panel led by Sec. Jess Dureza and Government Chief Peace Negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who once headed the peace talks with the communist groups with the previous administration.
It was a very meaningful event in my life. I grew up in an island free from insurgency which is located far away from the center of power, Manila. It was the first time for me to have face to face interaction and rubbing elbows with the bigwigs from both parties. I only used to read the names Joma Sison, Luis Jalandoni and the Tiamzon couple or see them on TV and now, here I was having photos with them in the flesh.
Aside from my SecLab, I had also photos with Secretary Dureza, then Mayor Herbert Bautista, former DAR Secretary Braganza and no less than then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Pefecto Yasay. They included other members of the delegation for whom I served as their tourist guide when they moved around the city and the Vatican compound for shopping and sightseeing.
At that time I wondered why there were so many in the delegation when a number of them did not join in the negotiations but spent most of the time moving around Rome and the Vatican. I thought then that they were just “observer-advisers.” I also entertained the idea that they were part of the junket! I even had a question in my mind on who spent for their travel expenses.
But the government panel said the presence of a large contingent from the House of Representatives will help ensure close coordination between the executive and legislative branches of government in accelerating the peace process. The House delegation also included Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema; Representatives Reynaldo Umali (justice committee); Rene Relampagos (agrarian reform); and members of the special committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity: Carlos Isagani Zarate, Jesus Sacdalan, Jose Christopher Belmonte, Maximo Rodriguez, Nancy Catamco, Gary Alejano, and Leopoldo Bataoil.
Together with Secretary Bello were the Director of the International Labor Affairs Bureau who collected all the receipts for the expenses I spent for hosting the Seclab and his entourage and a couple of lady PRRD supporters from Davao whom one later became a Director of DOLE and the other Labor Attaché in Washington DC (DOLE outsiders at that time).
I also met in that fateful week Atty. Franklin Quijano, former Mayor of Iligan City who claimed to have his roots from the island of Siquijor (my native home) who became an instant friend knowing that I served in their region for about two years as DOLE director. He is now the Chair of the National Commission for Senior Citizens.
Dureza and Bello both said that the president instructed them to fast track the negotiations in order to have enough time to implement a peace deal under the Duterte administration and that in that round they were ready to tackle the contentious parts and remained confident that they can strike a deal with the communist groups within a year to finally end almost half a century of hostilities in the countryside.
They added that the government panel was prepared with a draft agreement on bilateral ceasefire on top of the draft agreements on socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces.
It was reported that the third round of the peace negotiations between the Philippine Government, Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front, and New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA) started with an amiable note still as big smiles were apparent in the posted photos of both panels in Rome, Italy but it ended just a week later with an agreement to continue unilateral ceasefires.
On the last hour of the last day, I was in the midst of a group, while both parties were smiling and hugging as they bade goodbye, tired and frustrated for failure of the parties to have agreements on the so called major contentious issues. Time, money and other resources seemed wasted. Billions could have been already spent since the Corazon Aquino administration without seeing a real light at the end of the tunnel.
I was partly sad because I was hopeful of a positive outcome of the negotiations (I could have been part of a major historical development), sad of the “confiscated tickets” and also worried because the Chinese-made bag I bought for my SecLab malfunctioned on our way to the airport as he left Italy for the Philippines.
On November 13, 2017 PRRD issued a proclamation declaring the termination of the peace talks with the NDF-CPP-NPA for failure of the latter to show its sincerity and commitment in pursuing genuine and meaningful peaceful negotiations.
So this new round of negotiations will be held after failed negotiations with six (6) administrations and a six-year hiatus, to hopefully find an end to this conflict which raged for over 50 years and killed more than 40,000 people since 1969.
The report said that “parties agreed to a principled and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict to address the deep rooted socioeconomic and political grievances and agreed to come up with a framework that sets the priorities for the peace negotiation with the aim of achieving the relevant socioeconomic and political reforms towards a just and lasting peace”.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on negotiations for peace said that, “negotiate peace only with the strong and not with the weak and negotiate based on their interest.”
Totoo kaya ito? Is this applicable to the agreed GRP and NDF-CPP-NPA peace negotiations? Is the interest for negotiating of the latter not also the interest of the former? Why can’t they agree and allowed disagreement to last for more than 50 years and until today?
Author’s email: [email protected]