CEBU CITY—The government (GRP) panel negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front (NDF) is committed in signing a final peace agreement with communist guerillas within one year, giving the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte five more years to start implementing key reforms mutually-agreed upon by both parties.
Government negotiator Hernani Braganza disclosed that the Duterte administration has set a self-imposed deadline to wrap up the peace talks in a year's time to allow the implementation stage of the peace process to take root before the President's term ends in year 2022.
"The negotiation stage may be difficult, but the real test of the peace process lies in the implementation of social, economic, and political reforms mutually-agreed upon by both parties," Braganza told participants of the Central Visayas People's Summit for Peace and Change held in Cebu City.
"The Duterte government and the NDF share a common mission: address the root causes of the armed conflict. Both panels are guided by this mission and we are serious in finding joint solutions to attain just and lasting peace," he added.
Braganza expressed optimism that both panels would be able to finish the negotiation within one year following an agreement in Oslo to accelerate the timetable that binds their Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) and Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) to complete work on the substantive agenda of the peace negotiations within specific timeline.
Part of the agreement was a commitment by the RWCs on Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) of both panels to "endeavor to complete work within a period of six months."
Discussions on CASER is expected to last the longest among items in the substantive agenda as these involve the most contentious issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy.
Braganza explained that CASER is considered the "heart and soul" of the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDF, pointing out that work on socio-economic reform would determine the outcome of the talks.
"Fast-tracking discussions on CASER means accelerating the process of seeking political settlement with the NDF and ending almost half a century of armed conflict with communist guerillas," Braganza added.
Another agreement signed in Oslo requires the RWGs on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) to abide by the following timetable:
* Exchange of drafts by September 2016;
* Common draft by October 2016;
* Discussions on common draft on November 2016;
* Drafting of common draft at RWC level by December 2016; and
* Completion of final draft by January 2017 for submission to respective Panels.
Also agreed upon was the timetable set by the RWGs on End of Hostilities/Disposition of Forces (EoH/DoF), which are required to commence their work on draft outlines by 24 October 2016, without waiting for the result of discussions on other substantive issues.
The other major agreements that were signed in Oslo include:
* Reaffirmation of previously signed agreements since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) "subject to further developments and enhancements as may be mutually agreed upon."
* Reconstitution of the JASIG List which was presented by the NDF Panel to the GRP Panel. The JASIG protects certain NDF leaders and consultants from arrest and prosecution in recognition of their participation in the peace process.
* Formal revitalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee, a mechanism crucial in the implementation of CARHRIHL.
* Commitment of the GRP to "cause the early release of prisoners (as listed by the NDF) who are sick, elderly, overly long detained, and women based on humanitarian grounds."
* Recommendation for President Duterte to "issue an amnesty proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress, for the release of prisoners who are listed by the NDF and who have been arrested, imprisoned, charged, and/or convicted for alleged acts or omissions within the ambit of the Revised Penal Code or special laws in connection with crimes in pursuit of one's political beliefs."
Braganza, at the same time, called on ordinary citizens to get themselves involved and participate in public discussions related to ongoing peace talks between the GRP and NDF.
He noted that the government panel would continue holding public consultations with various groups in the Philippines to solicit their positions and inputs on issues that would form part of the agenda in the peace negotiations.
"We are negotiators for the Filipino people. We want to get their position on issues up for discussion so these can be taken into consideration during negotiation," Braganza said.
"This is not a mere discussion between two panels of negotiators. We want all voices to be heard and amplified in the negotiating table," he added. ##