By RANDY FELIX P. MALAYAO
“I will be compelled to exercise extra-ordinary power,” said President Rodrigo R. Duterte to an obviously stunned local executives of Mindanao, on March 8. “Either tulungan niyo ako or I will declare Martial Law tomorrow… It would be bloody,” he further warned.
The president’s rhetoric sounded like he observes no rules of war. He went on further to say “collateral damage, pasensya na lang.” International humanitarian laws govern the conduct of war among belligerents. These are enshrined in Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIRHL) where just recently, both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratice Front of the Philippines (NDFP) reaffirmed compliance and professed adherence to.
Despite such bleak and gory announcement, prospects for the resumption of peace talks remain positive. There are silver linings to hold on to – the ongoing backchannel talks, the announced release of Prisoners of War (POWs) and the possibility of the forging of some kind of a ceasefire – unilateral or bilateral.
The backchannel talks
Representatives of the NDFP and the GRP are now in Europe for supposedly secret backchannel talks to resume the peace process which was terminated by the President early February (in a pique response to NPA’s lifting of its unilateral ceasefire).
From the Netherlands, Fidel Agcaoili clarified that “(B)oth sides agreed to hold secret backchannel talks as early as the first week of February. For some reason, these have been delayed till now. In this regard, we have kept our end of the bargain not to reveal the plans or issue any statement that would upset these.”
The objectives of the backchannel, confirmed Fidel, are to bring about the continuation of the talks in order to hold the scheduled fourth round in April to discuss important matters, including Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER) and Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR).
Apparently, Duterte was swayed to mull the revival of the talks because of strong public demand, particularly citing a resolution passed by the House of Representatives. But Duterte has conditions that he hopes will be settled during the backchannel talks.
There are three conditions or things that the President would like to happen before any resumption will progress – that there should be a bilateral ceasefire; that the NPA stop “extorting” from businesses; and the NPA to release prisoners or hostages especially the military personnel.
On POW releases
Release of the POWs has been approved in a statement by the revolutionary leadership on 27 February. Discussions have been going on since between third party peace facilitators and the GRP Panel. The NPA has called for a Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) and Suspension of Police Operations (SOPO) to expedite the releases.
Without SOMO and SOPO, the lives of these POWs and those who will receive them will be put in danger, and, therefore, any manner of prisoner release becomes impossible.
The POWs should have been released as early as March 2. Both the NDF and NPA in Mindanao, acting on the call of the CPP, have already begun the process to facilitate the immediate and safe release of the following 6 POWs: PFC Edwin Salan (captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29); Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pfc Samuel Garay (captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2); PO2 Jerome Natividad (captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9); Paramilitary Rene Doller and Paramilitary Carl Mark Nucos (captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February).
“The releases shall be carried out as a gesture of goodwill for the resumption of the peace talks. These are also in response to the request of the families and loved ones of the POWs, as well as to the call of various concerned sectors in society,” said Ka Joaquin Jacinto, spokesperson of NDF Mindanao.
In its earnest reply to the AFP’s dare to “just do it, release them”, NDF-Mindanao says “yes we will” but only if the AFP, PNP and their troops fully cooperate by way of a SOMO and a SOPO and avoid acts of treachery that will bring harm to the POWs, their loved ones and the third party facilitators.
If these conditions are satisfied, the release will push through. The ball is now in the AFP’s hands, said NDF Mindanao.
On bilateral ceasefire
In a public statement issued February 18, the CPP and the NPA have reiterated their support for efforts to forge a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
“The revolutionary forces anticipate that negotiations concerning the terms of reference of a bilateral ceasefire agreement will be most difficult,” said the CPP.
“The revolutionary forces are also bound by principle to assert the withdrawal of the AFP’s operating troops from areas under the sway of the revolutionary government,” the Party furthered.
“However difficult, the revolutionary forces are willing to work with the GRP negotiators to hammer out a bilateral ceasefire agreement that will be mutually acceptable and enforceable,” assured the CPP.
With these positive advances, shall we now look forward to the fourth round of GRP-NDFP Talks this coming April? # nordis.net