Keeping the Peace Alive:
On the Alpha Phi Omega - Beta Sigma Peace Forum
by Randy Malayao
[Photos from Joel Paredes, Caloy Agulto, Jojo Alejar]
On February 16, not only the belligerent parties in the five decade Philippine
civil war, GRP and NDF, attended a peace forum together but rival UP
fraternities, APO and Beta Sigma as well. Interestingly, both jointly sponsored
the said forum. Some years back, during the “frat wars,” such joint sponsorship
could not possibly have happened.
Upon President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of the termination of peace talks, some key responsibles of the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity and Brod Joel Paredes, Brod Jose Lalas of the Beta Sigma Fraternity held their own “peace talks” on how to contribute peace in the campus and in the country. Long before this, there was the alumni UP Barkadadan. Then the latter day Peace Benches. And recently, this Peace Forum.
The "Peace Bench" near Vinzons Hall
Both agreed to invite the Chief Negotiator of the GRP Sec Silvestre Bello III and available members of the NDFP peace delegation. Ka Satur Ocampo and I represented the NDFP. Incidentally, Sec Bebot Bello is an alumnus of APO. I am an alumnus of Beta Sigma.
The organizers, which included the College of Education Office of the Dean and the Student Council, were able to gather an impressive mix of panel reactors and discussants - famed academics Dr. Epifanio San Juan and Prof. Mila Aguilar; student leader Beta Sigma Ladies Corps Shari Aliquino and the chair of the College of Education Student Council.
The Benitez Hall Auditorium was full which suggests growing interest of the public on the issue. In attendance were academics, artists, fraternity members and students. Reporters and crew from key media networks were in full attendance, trying to get some scoops from both panels.
Members of the GRP peace delegation were also in attendance led by CHED Commissioner Dr. Popoy De Vera who is a member of of the CASER Reciprocal Working Committee, Dr. Pancho Lara of the ceasefire committee, among others. Alumni members of both fraternities took time to be present in this noble peace project. Later after the forum, the elders and the residents all trooped to the Peace Benches, yet another joint Apo-Beta Sigma Peace Project.
Ka Satur dwelled on the history of talks with emphasis during the Cory Aquino
regime. He was chair of the NDFP Panel at that time. He now serves as Cooperator
in the GRP-NDFP Talks. He lamented the arbitrariness of the termination but
remained hopeful that the talks will be revived soonest.
I presented the gains in the last six months (see brief lecture below, "GRP-NDF Peace talks: where do we go from here?").
Silvestre Bebot Bello, pressed on the issue of having a ceasefire while talking. He also exhorted the youth to get involved and actively engage in the peace talks and other burning issues of the day. Despite the announcement of the president, he declared optimism though that soon, parties will be going back to the negotiating table.
All panel reactors are one in saying that peace talks must be resumed and resolve the roots of the five-decade civil war in the country.
Brod Jose Lalas, an exchange professor from the University of Redlands, ably moderated the peace forum.
GRP-NDF Peace talks: where do we go from here?
Brod Randy Felix P. Malayao Jr.
UP Visayas (Miag-ao), 89A
For the last six months, there have been more advances than setbacks.
There have been reaffirmation of past agreements since 1992, release of at least 17 consultants and some staff, albeit conditionally (on bail), reconstitution of the JASIG protection list; and, general amnesty for all political prisoners.
Under the Duterte administration, there have been three successful rounds - Oslo 1 and 2, and Rome. Both parties have forged to accelerate peace talks. And significantly under CASER, which is the meat of the peace process, parties have agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmer-tillers.
And yes, we should recognize that there was truce in 6 months, the longest in the history of GRP-NDF peace talks. Fighting was greatly reduced.
President Duterte abruptly terminated the talks, and consequently JASIG, on the following grounds: the NDFP’s insistence on the release of political prisoners; the non-signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement; lifting of the New People’s Army’s unilateral ceasefire.
Let’s tackle the issue of political prisoners (PPs). As of late, there are about 392 PPs as of December 31, 2016. Of these, 294 were arrested during the Aquino III admin, 15 under Duterte (and fastly growing in number!), 34 are women, 122 sick, 30-elderly, 3 were minors at the time of their arrest and 4 NDFP consultants and staff. 321 are undergoing trial, 71 are wrongly convicted. 388 are facing trumped up criminal charges (murder, frustrated/attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms and explosives). Only 4 are charged with rebellion.
Twenty three (23) were released in 2016 in line with the GRP-NDFP peacetalks while 32 were released in 2016 outside the peace negotiations initiative.
The longest-held political prisoner is Jose Ceriales, currently detained at New Bilibid Prison -Medium Security Compound and arrested on May 8, 1985 during the Marcos regime. He was a peasant organizer in Negros Oriental arrested and wrongly convicted on charges of multiple mirder and double frustrated murder. He was arrested when he was 22.
NDFP Peace Panel Chair Fidel Agcaoili aptly said in his closing statement in the Rome Round last January “the release of political prisoners is not simply a goodwill measure on the part of the GRP nor is it a precondition. It is a matter of redressing an injustice. It is a matter of compliance with the CARHRIHL. It is also a question of trust, of palabra de honor. The promise given in August 2016 in order to secure the indefinite extension of the unilateral ceasefire of the revolutionary movement has not materialized to date.”
On the issue of Ceasefire
The NDFP did not withdraw its unilateral ceasefire just because the political prisoners were not released. Prior to lifting, the GRP had been repeatedly informed, signaled about the well-documented violations of the CARHRIHL.
Violations include military occupation of civilian structures like schools, health centers, residences; killings & disappearances of farmers & civilians; labeling & threatening civilians allegedly for being NPA supporters or sympathizers or falsely as drug users; forward deployment in areas the NDFP considers as their territories under the guise of "civil relations" or "peace & development operations," among others.
The NDFP has asserted that its hand was forced to withdraw its own ceasefire as the same has become "untenable" despite assuming an active defense mode to make the truce hold for the longest time.
Citing the history of negotiations, note that more than 10 major agreements were made during the Ramos regime while fighting went on.
Even if the armed conflict between the armed forces of the two Parties has resumed, peace negotiations can and must continue precisely to continue with the forging of the CASER, CAPCR and the bilateral ceasefire agreement and effecting the amnesty and release of all political prisoners within the year 2017.
Contrary to reports, bilateral ceasefire is not actually discarded by the NDFP. In the Joint Statement in Rome, both parties have scheduled tackle the issue on February 22-25 in The Netherlands. However, Duterte altogether terminated the talks without having received the GRP Panel’s report on the peace talks.
Where do we go from here?
If there is one compelling reason to revive the talks, it is peace itself and the commitment to resolve the roots of the five-decade armed conflict.
To attain this objective, both parties must honor commitments, fulfill pledges and respect solemn and binding bilateral agreements. These are the most principled gestures of good faith and enduring trust which are requisites to continue negotiating despite differences.
Abandoning the peace talks at this point will put to waste the gains and goodwill that have been made between the GRP and NDFP since the resumption of the talks in August of 2016.
The NDFP remains optimistic and looking forward to the reversal of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent declaration terminating the peace talks.
CARHRIHL – Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law
CASER – Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms
CAPCR - Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms
JASIG – Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees
Brod Randy Malayao is a consultant of the NDFP on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR). He joined the NDFP Peace Delegation in Oslo in August and October 2016; and in Rome last January 2017.
Jug-a-lug after the UPD Peace Forum