Peace negotiators from the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have resumed negotiations in Manila, discussing the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire agreement between the two parties and the revitalization of their monitoring mechanism for human rights and international humanitarian law.
Hernani Braganza, former agrarian reform secretary and member of the government peace panel, said the GRP and NDF panels have mutually decided to hold discussions in the Philippines, through their negotiators in the sub-committee level, as part of the agreement to accelerate the peace process.
The negotiations, which took place at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Taguig last Tuesday (September 20) and Wednesday (September 21), were facilitated by Special Envoy to Peace Process Elizabeth Slattum.
"This is another breakthrough in the peace process. The peace panels, through their committees and sub-committees, are holding talks in the Philippines, not only in Oslo, to fast-track the peace negotiations," Braganza pointed out.
"Whatever was agreed upon by the working groups in the Philippines will be elevated to the panel level during formal talks in Oslo for discussion and approval," he added.
Last Tuesday, the negotiators from the GRP and the NDF agreed in principle to "revitalize" the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
The NDF contingent in the JMC discussion was led by panel members Fidel Agcaoili and Coni Ledesma, along with Concha Araneta-Bocala who was recently released from prison.
For the government panel, the lead discussant was Atty. Efren Moncupa, a human rights lawyer who chairs the GRP committees on JMC and Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).
The items approved in principle during the JMC discussion include: maintenance of office with dedicated personnel to receive complaints on violations of CARHRIHL; and joint GRP-NDF activities such as information and education campaign on human rights and international humanitarian law.
According to Braganza, the GRP-NDF committees on ceasefire also met last Wednesday to hold preliminary talks on the extension of their respective unilateral ceasefire and proposed agreement on a joint ceasefire.
"What we have at the moment is a unilateral ceasefire declared by both parties. We hope to sign a bilateral agreement in Oslo for a joint ceasefire, which is more durable and permanent," said Braganza, who is supervising panel member for the JMC and GRP ceasefire committee.
"Our aim is to harmonize the operational guidelines of the GRP and the NDF during ceasefire to avoid misencounters or other violations of the agreement. We are also expected to come up with a mechanism for reporting of ceasefire violations," he explained.
Braganza noted that the GRP and the NDF panels earlier agreed "to reconcile and develop their separate unilateral ceasefire orders into a single unified bilateral document within 60 days."
The GRP ceasefire committee is chaired by Dr. Francisco Lara, currently Philippine Country Director of Philippine Alert; with members that include Dr. Jaime Aristotle Alip, Atty. Adel Abas, retired police Senior Supt. Wilmer Panabang and Atty. Marie Dinah Tolentino-Fuentes.
For the NDF, Agcaoili also sits as chair with members that include NDF consultants Benito Tiamzon, Rafael Baylosis, Tirso Alcantara and Alfredo Mapano. Another NDF consultant, Wilma Austria-Tiamzon, attended the discussion on ceasefire as observer.
Braganza said initial agreements on JMC and bilateral ceasefire will be fleshed out and formalized when the GRP and NDF resumes formal peace negotiations in Oslo from October 6 to 10.
Aside from the JMC and bilateral ceasefire, other items up for negotiation in the second round of peace talks in Oslo include the substantive agreements on socio-economic reforms (CASER), political and constitutional reforms (PCR) and end of hostilities/disposition of forces (EOH-DOF).