By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have achieved a major breakthrough in forging an agreement for an interim joint ceasefire. While the agreement on the ceasefire does not represent the meat of the talks, the GRP and NDFP negotiating panels nevertheless hurdled one major thorny issue that has been delaying the peace talks and has been fueling animosity from both sides.
Now, the peace talks could focus on one of the most important substantive agenda: social and economic reforms, which would address the roots of the armed conflict. Another thing worth noting is that both sides appear to be optimistic about forging a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) by the end of the year. This is unprecedented.
It could be remembered that after the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, under the Ramos administration, achieved significant gains in laying the groundwork for the talks with the forging of the Hague Joint Declaration, Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig), the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), among others, the peace talks appeared to have stalled. The peace talks, under the succeeding administrations, began and ended abruptly.
One of the worst times for the peace talks was under the administration of Benigno Aquino III when Aquino’s negotiating panel, which was headed by Alexander Padilla and under the guidance of Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos Deles, moved to disregard all previously signed agreements. This, in effect, would have pushed the peace talks backward.
While the current peace talks has, expectedly, been tough, it never proceeded this fast before; it has never reached this point; and it has never generated this much optimism on both sides.
If the CASER is signed by the end of the year, as projected, then more than half of the work would be done. While there may still be contentious issues when political and constitutional reforms would be discussed, but compared to the agenda on social and economic reforms, the next substantive agenda is expected to be easier. If a Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms is signed by next year, what is left remaining on the table is forging an agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.
The nation has never been this close to achieving a just and lasting peace. It is now of vital importance for the Filipino people to follow the progress in the talks closely, especially since what would be negotiated are social and economic reforms then political and constitutional reforms. In other words, the talks would now deal with fundamental issues affecting the current situation, as well as determine the future of the country.
It is also incumbent on the media to begin reporting and focusing on the progress on the negotiations on the substantive agenda rather than on alleged violations of the ceasefire. The latter only serves to fuel the tensions rather than create an atmosphere conducive to achieving a just and lasting peace.