Government negotiators tasked to secure peace with the National Democratic Front (NDF) motored to Baguio City today to hold a two-day consultation-workshop with government officials and community leaders of the Cordilleras on proposed social and economic reforms being discussed with communist guerrillas.
The consultation-workshop, being held at the Albergo Hotels, also seek to solicit inputs from the local officials and community leaders of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) regarding concerns on the proposed joint ceasefire agreement with communist rebels.
“This activity is part of the government panel’s nationwide consultations with relevant stakeholders to collect inputs, test the validity of its positioning and encourage buy-ins for the on-going peace negotiations,” explained former Agrarian Reform Sec. Hernani Braganza, the panel member supervising the discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and joint ceasefire agreement.
“We are your negotiators. What we want to discuss in the negotiating table with the NDF is your position on issues affecting your communities. Now is the time for the Cordillerans to speak up and voice out your concerns with regard to the peace negotiation,” Braganza added.
He explained that the outputs of the consultation-workshop, held under the auspices of the Regional Development Council (RDC) and the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC), will be included as inputs to the fifth round of formal peace negotiation with the NDF scheduled in The Netherlands from May 27 to June 1, 2017.
The government and the NDF had previously conducted four rounds of formal peace negotiations under the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, achieving breakthroughs in CASER discussions, ceasefire agreement and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHR-IHL).
For CASER, both panels had agreed to accelarate the discussion through formation of bilateral teams that meet regularly in Manila in between formal rounds of peace negotiation. The discussions intend to flesh out an agreement on free land distribution for a proposed agrarian reform program.
During the fourth round of peace talks, held in Noordwidjk Ann Zee in The Netherlands last March, both panels also agreed to craft a joint ceasefire agreement that will provide cessation of hostilities pending the signing of a final peace agreement. The terms of reference (TOR) of the joint ceasefire is now under discussion in Manila.
The third round of peace talks, held in Rome last January, produced an agreement providing supplementing guidelines for the operationalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the CARHR-IHL.
The CARHR-IHL was signed by the government and the NDF in 1998, but it was only under the term of President Duterte that it was made fully operational.
The agreement recognized the need to apply human rights principles when responding to the armed conflict. It obligated both parties to promote the respect of and adherence to international humanitarian law among its forces. It emphasized the urgency of protecting the civilian population.
Braganza noted that side from CASER and joint ceasefire, both panels will also discuss their respective positions on the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) on the next round of talks in The Netherlands.
“At the moment, discussions were being conducted extensively on CASER since forging an agreement on social and economic reforms is acknowledged by parties to be central to reaching unity and peace,” he explained.
“We will also focus on the joint ceasefire since forging a bilateral ceasefire is considered to be of parallel importance to provide an enabling environment for reforms to take place,” he added.
Braganza said the consultation-workshop in Baguio City is the first under the RDC and RPOC mechanism, and will be replicated in other regions in between formal rounds of negotiations abroad.
“We will try to bring to the negotiating table as many voices as possible. The final peace agreement is not for government, but for the entire Filipino nation,” he pointed out.