By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – When President Benigno Aquino III assumed the presidency on the banner of change, there was much hope among the Filipino people. Peace based on justice is one of the major aspirations of the Filipino people.
Upon taking over from the previous administration, peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began in earnest. Somehow it has lost steam. While the peace talks with the MILF is still ongoing, albeit at a slower pace and not without obstacles, the talks with the NDFP has been postponed without any definite timetable for its resumption.
“How could we talk peace if our hands are tied?”
This was the statement of Alan Jazmines, one of the 13 detained consultants of the in an interview with Bulatlat.com.
Jazmines, 64, was arrested hours before the resumption of peace talks between the government and the NDFP in February. He was charged with rebellion and murder and is now detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Jazmines, member of the NDFP reciprocal working committee for socio-economic reforms, said the release of detained NDFP consultants is a “prejudicial question.” “Release us first. How could we talk [to the GPH panel] if we are detained?” Jazmines said.
The refusal of the GPH to release detained NDFP consultants and other individuals protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) has been the major obstacle to the continuation of the peace talks.
The Jasig is an agreement signed by the GPH (then called Government of the Republic of the Philippines or the GRP) and the NDFP in February 1995. It provides protection and immunity to all participants to the peace talks. Jasig-protected persons are consultants and personnel of both parties supposedly immune from arrest and any other form of harassment.
After the first round of talks between the two parties in Oslo, Norway in February, no other formal dialogue has taken place. The NDFP has accused the GPH of reneging on previous agreements while the latter claimed the NDFP’s demand is a precondition to the peace talks.
The joint statement released immediately after the preliminary talks in January states that: “The GPH Panel agreed to work for the expeditious release of detained NDFP consultants and other Jasig-protected persons in compliance with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) and in the spirit of goodwill.”
The next joint statement issued on Feb. 21 states: “…[t]he GPH shall continue to work on appropriate measures to effect the expeditious release of all or most of the fourteen (14) NDFP listed JASIG consultants and personalities before the second round of formal talks, subject to verification as provided in the Jasig Supplemental Agreement dated June 26, 1996, or on the basis of humanitarian and other practical reasons.” At that time, the NDFP added three more Jasig-protected persons who have been arrested by government, including Alan Jazmines who was arrested hours before the start of the resumption of formal talks.
The GPH and NDFP scheduled the next round of formal talks in June. By that time, however, not one of the 17 NDFP consultants and personnel had been released, prompting the NDFP to defer the formal talks. The NDFP said it was “to give time to the GPH to comply with the agreements.”
In reaction, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the NDFP’s statements are “unfortunate” but did not give any explanation why there were no releases at that time. In her statement, Deles referred to the demand for release of NDFP consultants as one of the “non-substantive issues” in the talks.
GPH panel chairman Alexander Padilla would later call the demand for release “a precondition” to the resumption of peace talks.
Luis Jalandoni, NDFP panel chairman, reminded the GPH that Jasig is a binding agreement and that the release of detained NDFP consultants is not a mere confidence-building measure but an obligation under the Jasig and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
Signed in 1998, the CARHRIHL provides that political prisoners must be released in accordance with the Hernandez political doctrine. The doctrine refers to a Supreme Court decision prohibiting the criminalization of political offenses.
Jalandoni added that the demand is not a precondition to the talks, saying that a precondition as stated in the Hague Joint Declaration refers to surrender or capitulation by one party to the other. Jalandoni said Padilla is distorting the meaning of “precondition” in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992. The Hague Joint Declaration is considered as the framework agreement in the peace talks between the GPH and the NDFP.
“It is untenable to continue with the peace talks when there were no releases. It is difficult to continue with the talks when the previous agreements have not been complied with,” Jalandoni said.
By July and August, four NDFP consultants were released namely Jovencio Balweg, Jaime Soledad, Maria Luisa Purcray and Glicerio Pernia.
The NDFP welcomed this and proposed the resumption of talks by September. Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP spokesman, went to Manila and talked with Padilla. Agcaoili said Padilla agreed to the resumption of talks and to the release of other NDFP consultants. A few days after Agcaoili left Manila, however, the NDFP received a letter from Padilla postponing the talks supposedly slated in September.
In a statement, Padilla said they conducted a verification process for the holders of documents of identification (DI), July 26 to ascertain the identities of Jasig-protected persons. Padilla said the safety deposit box containing the diskettes with encrypted photographs could not be extracted.
Under the Jasig, both parties have the inherent right to issue documents of identification to its negotiators, consultants, staffers, security and other personnel. Such documents shall be duly recognized as safe-conduct passes.
“If none could be verified, there was no obligation on the part of government to release and that should any be made, the same was part of government’s confidence building measures. The failure was theirs and theirs alone,” Padilla said.
To this, Agcaoili replied: “As a lawyer, he should know that encrypted photographs are photographs. He also knows that encrypting these is dictated by security considerations and the verification of these photographs is not mandatory in the Jasig as he himself and his predecessors, Howard Dee and Silvestre Bello III, have done,” Agcaoili said. Under Jasig, the use of assumed names and encrypted photographs is allowed.
“Padilla is indeed a fool for failing to know and respect the full scope and terms of the JASIG despite his being a lawyer and the GPH chief negotiator. He is killing the peace negotiations by blocking the release of all or most of the Jasig-protected persons in violation of the JASIG and the 2011 Oslo joint statements,” Agcaoili said.
Agcaoili said the “fouling up” of the decryption code was a result of the 2007 raid by the Dutch government, in collusion with the GRP/GPH, of the NDFP office in Utrecht, the Netherlands and six residences of NDFP personnel.