The International Association of Democratic Lawyers supports the following call for international solidarity with the peace process in the Philippines:
Supporting the renewed peace process:
A call for international solidarity for a just and lasting peace in the Philippines
During the recent exploratory talks on the 14‒15th of June in Oslo, Norway, representatives from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) affirmed previous commitments, as well as: the acceleration of the peace negotiations centering on key issues; immediate release of key consultants; reconstitution of the JASIG; and general amnesty for over 500 political detainees as part of confidence-building measures. Interim ceasefire is set to take place within the month, and within the year, deals on socioeconomic, political and constitutional reforms are anticipated. These would be followed by the end of hostilities and the disposition of forces.
This is an unprecedented opportunity that has arisen under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The willingness expressed by the newly elected president to release political detainees is a promising sign. Doing so would indicate a higher level of respect for commitments and for human wellbeing than has been exhibited by past administrations, and would serve as a crucial corrective to the current sour state of the peace negotiations.
The Philippines is a nation under multiple conflicts, including the now 47-year civil war between the Philippine government and the NDF, which represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). The disputes that the NDF and many other groups have with the GRP, among other concerns, are matters of social justice and equity and equality of the current national development path. Some of these groups represent and consist of populations that have been denied the benefits of development. Some of them, as in the experiences of the Moro people and the indigenous Lumad, have in addition been oppressed by the GRP’s armed forces, both directly and through widely reported extra-judicial killings.
Even in its own analysis, the GRP has identified the following as the main causes of internal conflict: abject poverty, corruption, failures of the justice system, human rights, violations, disputes over land, ownership and use of natural resources, marginalization of Lumad and indigenous cultural communities, and the lack of respect and recognition of ancestral domain and indigenous people’s rights.
Though rich in terms of agricultural resources, the Philippine economy remains highly controlled by foreign interests and by local elites, whose dominance is evidenced in their near-monopolization of land and the prevalence of import-dependent and export-oriented businesses. These factors have combined to yield the starkly unequal outcomes and worsening poverty for the majority, which the NDF–CPP–NPA has identified as the grounds for its opposition to the GRP.
Yet, initiated in 1992 with the GRP and NDF signing of The Hague Joint Declaration (THJD), the peace negotiations have faced several challenges, despite the recognition by all parties of the roots of the conflict. The most recent of these challenges has been GRP non-compliance, under the Aquino administration, concerning the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed in 1995. Under the JASIG, consultants and other personnel are granted immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, interrogation, detention, prosecution and similar punitive actions.
Despite the GRP’s participation in this agreement, Philippine people’s rights organization KARAPATAN reports that, of the current 557 political detainees, 19 are in fact NDF consultants. Their detention has constituted a major obstacle to progress in the peace negotiations. This violation of the JASIG, and the outright refusal of the GRP to resume, has left the peace negotiations stalled for the last four years.
Among the detainees, moreover, are 88 suffering serious illnesses and 51 seniors. Their release would be a much-needed expression of humanitarian concern, which could set the tone and act as a foundation for a negotiated settlement.
The peace negotiations have far-reaching implications for Philippine democracy and for national development. Both issues relate directly to each component of the agenda for the negotiations established in THJD, signed by both the GRP and the NDF. The agenda-points are: (1) human rights and humanitarian law; (2) socio-economic reforms; (3) political and constitutional reforms; and (4) the end of hostilities and the disposition of forces. This agenda provides ample room to begin addressing the roots of the conflict in a comprehensive manner.
Efforts by past administrations to address these roots have been sorely lacking, and in some instances highly counterproductive. This is because the efforts have often been militarized and have not coincided with qualitative changes in governance. A comprehensive solution must involve reforms to governance institutions, mechanisms and processes to render government more accountable and accessible to people. The negotiations can serve as a starting point.
The resumption of formal peace negotiations are scheduled at either the end of July, or the beginning of August this year.
Now more than ever, there is a need for increased international support for the Philippine peace process. A variety of individuals, organizations, institutions and governments around the world have provided crucial support for the process in the past. Norway, for example, made a bold move in 2006 by deciding not to recognize the outdated and biased US and EU “terror list,” on which was included the name of NDF chief consultant Jose Maria Sison. Furthermore, due in part to Pres. Duterte’s commitment to being personally involved in the peace process, international attention has heightened. This heightened attention can translate into valuable support.
Support the NDF–GRP peace process!
Address the root causes of the armed conflict!
Release all political prisoners!
Struggle for a just and lasting peace!
Long live international solidarity!