Speaking before members of people’s organizations, Randall Echanis, a member of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms (RCW-SER) said the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms is the meat of the peace negotiations as it aims to address the roots of the armed conflict.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — During these times when the country is reeling from a global economic crisis, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said, a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser) could never be more opportune.
The item on socio-economic reforms is the second in the substantive agenda in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the NDFP. The first agenda item was the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL),which was signed in August 1998.
After the initial round of peace talks last February, both panels agreed to start discussing Caser by June this year and to sign the agreement by August.
Speaking before members of people’s organizations, Randall Echanis, a member of the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms (RCW-SER) said the Caser is the meat of the peace negotiations as it aims to address the roots of the armed conflict.
Echanis said the NDFP and the GPH, which was formerly called as the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), exchanged drafts on Caser on March 16, 1998. Discussions, however, did not start at once.
Echanis recalled that bilateral talks on Caser took place in February and April of 2004. “The NDFP draft became the de facto working draft. The talks did not advance though. We only finished discussing the Preamble and the Declaration of Principles,” Echanis related.
Echanis said the two panels have different frameworks, citing as an example the refusal of the GPH panel members to use the phrase “national industrialization” in the Declaration of Principles.
Talks were stalled until the resumption of formal talks this February. After six years of impasse, the Caser is once again on the table.
On the NDFP side, Juliet de Lima serves as the RWC-SER chairwoman. Besides Echanis, Rafael Baylosis is the other member of the RWC-SER. Meanwhile, the GPH’s RWC-SER is chaired by Ednar Dayanghirang. He is joined by Fr. Bert Alejo and Prof. Fernando Aldana.
During the first round of formal talks, both panels identified the initial topics to be discussed in Caser. Echanis said the NDFP proposed agrarian reform and nationalist industrialization. The GPH later on agreed, citing assets reform and industrial policies as counterparts to the NDFP’s proposal. Both panels said they would revise their respective original drafts, which were submitted in 1998.
For the Majority
Echanis said the socio-economic reforms should address the economic problems of the people, especially the marginalized sectors such as farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and urban poor.
“Reforms should not be superficial and cosmetic and instead be meaningful to address poverty, backwardness and class division,” Echanis explained.
Because the framework of development of the GPH is different, Echanis said, the NDFP’s Caser would encompass the task of totally changing policies and programs that spawned and perpetuated poverty.
Echanis said it is important to uphold economic sovereignty and independence. “Without it, we cannot mobilize, much less protect our natural resources and patrimony in the service of national development,” he said, adding that there is a need to break the domination and control of foreign powers.
A thoroughgoing redistribution of social wealth, said Echanis, is needed in order to do away with the “iniquitous relations that bind the people.”
Genuine Agrarian Reform, National Industrialization.
Echanis said a genuine agrarian reform program should be implemented. Contrary to the provisions of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the late president Corazon Aquino and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) of the current administration, Echanis said, the NDFP is batting for free land distribution. Under the CARP and CARPER, farmers must pay for the land. Eventually, farmers who could not afford to pay amortization end up losing the land. The practice, said Echanis, has led to the re-concentration of land to the landlords.
Other components of the NDFP’s land reform program includes ending exploitative practices such as usury, promoting cooperativization, providing comprehensive support services such as irrigation and post-harvest facilities and food self-sufficiency.
In a separate forum via Skype, NDFP RCW-SER chair Juliet de Lima, said the feudal and semifeudal conditions must end. Land reform, de Lima said, is the principal means to develop the economy.
Fidel Agcaoili, a member of the NDFP peace panel, pointed out that agrarian reform and national industrialization are not socialist demands but bourgeois democratic demands. Agcaoili said these are needed to cope with the onslaught of the global economic crisis.
Jose Maria Sison, NDFP chief political consultant, aid in another forum that the land reform programs implemented in Taiwan and Japan were instrumental in developing their economy.
Echanis said national industrialization should break the neocolonial pattern of production, investment and trade and secure the livelihood of the masses and make way for economic independence from imperialist domination.
Agcaoili maintained that the country’s abundant mineral and natural resources are enough to develop industries. He said the NDFP is preparing to propose 10 industrial projects.
Prospects under Aquino Administration
Would the Aquino administration respond positively to the NDFP’s proposal?
De Lima said the roadblock to national economic development is the Philippine government’s lack of political will to shun neoliberal policies imposed by the US and other foreign powers. She said the successive Philippine administrations have been serving the interest of foreign monopoly capitalism, big business and landlords.
Meanwhile, Baylosis, another member of the NDFP RWC-SER, revealed that the NDFP has forwarded a 10-point concise agreement with the GPH for an immediate just peace, which includes two points on socio-economic reforms. Baylosis challenged the Aquino administration to sign it.
Agcaoili said if Aquino is willing to take the risk in resisting US imperialism, the NDFP is sincere in entering into a truce. “No development has been happening. The neoliberal policies have only led to the impoverishment of the Filipinos,” he said.
For his part, Sison said, if the Aquino administration proves adamant in towing the US’s line, Aquino would be easy to fight with. Sison explained that if reforms are not made, the crisis would only worsen and the Aquino regime would “easily get rotten.”