Santos has been a long-time Bicolano human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer, whose initial engagement with the peace process was in Bicol with the first GRP-NDFP nationwide ceasefire in 1986. He is Presiding Judge of the 9th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Nabua-Bato, Camarines Sur and Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Balatan, Camarines Sur. This piece was published in the December 12, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.
It’s that time of year again for possible unilateral announcements by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on a Christmas season ceasefire. Last Christmas’s ceasefire of 19 days from 16 December 2010 to 3 January 2011 was hailed as the “longest” ceasefire for quite some time, though there have been longer ceasefires in the past. Most people will surely welcome a holiday from work and the fighting anytime. But now we must go beyond near-ritualistic declarations of a Yuletide ceasefire.
We all need a bold breakthrough in the current impasse of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations that are stalled anew, this time on the issue of the GPH release or non-release of claimed NDFP consultants who are detained. This kind of regular bog-downs on non-substantive agenda matters is already part of the historical pattern of these more-off-than-on negotiations of nearly 20 years since 1992. This pattern has to be decisively broken if there is to be any sustained hope for this particular peace process.
The bold challenge: Start the New Year by hitting the ground running on the general timeframe of 18 months for completing the comprehensive agreements on the remaining items of the substantive agenda, especially on socio-economic reforms and political-constitutional reforms. This timeframe was already agreed on by the GPH and the NDFP in their Oslo Joint Statement (OJS) of 21 February 2011 when they resumed their formal peace negotiations after an impasse of almost seven years under the second Arroyo administration (2004-10). The said previous impasse (2004-11) was occasioned mainly by the non-substantive agenda issue of the international “terrorist” listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA) and NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison. That issue was never really resolved but it did not prevent the resumption of formal talks in February 2011.
This does not mean the GPH release of detained NDFP consultants will not be discussed. It simply means that this issue should not derail peace negotiations on the substantive agenda which, after nearly 20 years, should be given the top priority it deserves. The Hague Joint Declaration (THJD) of 1 September 1992, the main standing framework document for the GRP(now GPH)-NDFP peace negotiations, indicates that “The substantive agenda of the formal peace negotiations shall include human rights and international humanitarian law, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, end of hostilities and disposition of forces.” After completing negotiations on the first substantive item, with the forging of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998, the logical next steps are to complete the negotiations on the three remaining substantive items in the said agenda. .
Why not therefore concretize the agreement with specific agreed social, economic and political reforms which are what really count in addressing the roots of the armed conflict? This discussion on specific reforms will be show the sincerity of the parties and the viability of their peace negotiations. They have already agreed that this can be done in 18 months or so.
As there is already an agreed mechanism of reciprocal working committees (RWCs) and Working Groups for discussion of the three remaining substantive items in the THJD-mandated agenda, the important though secondary non-substantive agenda item of release of NDFP consultants, and other issues (like landmines), can be addressed by an appropriate mechanism, such as the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) for the CARHRIHL. The successful resumption of the formal peace negotiations from 15 to 21 February 2011 in Oslo, Norway facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) shows that such negotiations can be held even without yet the release of 13 or so remaining claimed NDFP consultants.
Aside from specific measures of goodwill on both sides, the OJS also provided that “To build confidence and create a favorable atmosphere on the occasion of the resumption of the formal talks after more than six years, each Party declared a unilateral, concurrent and reciprocal ceasefire during the formal peace talks from February 15 to 21, 2001.” Now, why can’t this kind of unilateral, concurrent and reciprocal ceasefire be applied to the whole 18 months timeframe for completing the comprehensive agreements on the remaining items of the substantive agenda, which we proposed to be from 1 January 2012 to 30 June 2013?
In fine, the peace challenge to the GPH and the NDFP is at least two-fold:  produce comprehensive agreements on socio-economic reforms (CASER), on political and constitutional reforms (CAPCR), and on end of hostilities and disposition of forces (CAEHDF) within 18 months; and  effect a unilateral, concurrent and reciprocal ceasefire to build confidence and create a favorable atmosphere during the same period of peace negotiations.