30 years in Search for Peace: The Philippines Peace Process Experience

Category: Advocacy & Commentaries, Peace and Security 149 0

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The original version of this document has been published in the “National Security Review.” 2017.  National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). This online version contains minor edits; the content and essence, however, remain faithful to the printed version. 

 

Abstract 

The Peace Process with the communist and the secessionist armed rebel groups have assumed national prominence during the presidency of Pres. Corazon Aquino in 1986.  Under her stewardship, peace tables with the communists and the Moro armed groups were opened.  Several prominent personalities imprisoned during the Marcos administration were released as a sign of goodwill.

More than thirty years after, the peace negotiations have moved forward, but the armed conflicts are seemingly far from over.  Despite the headways achieved by the different peace tables, armed rebel groups face internal squabbles and factionalism, posing challenge to the government especially in determining which faction is recognized by the members as legitimate.

This paper attempts to examine the peace efforts of the government. It looks at the gains and pitfalls of past efforts and provides recommendations on how to move forward with the peace process.

The author also argues that there is an urgency to find a logical exit to finally settle this national concern.   The urgency is premised on two things: First, all of the leaders of the major rebel groups are ageing.  While these groups would argue that their rebellion is not dependent on leaders, the reality is that the institutional memory is and will always be lodged with the founders and the old guards. They hold moral suasion over the younger leaders and members. Admittedly, however, moral suasion is one thing, control is another.  And this leads us to the second concern – these rebel organizations have experienced splits along the way, and the longer the peace settlement is achieved, the greater is the danger of disgruntled members leaving the organization to start their own group. Hence, the author believes that while the rebel groups are still intact, a political settlement with these rebel groups must soon be achieved.

INTRODUCTION

From the perspective of democracy, the fundamental goal of the peace process is to convince armed rebel groups to end their use of armed violence in pushing for their desired political and social reform.

In a democracy, groups must compete using the best argument and advocacies to win people on their side. This principle stems from the basic premise that people have the inherent capacity to think, reason and choose the best or the most beneficial option for them. At the heart of this democratic tenet is the basic respect for the inherent rationality of every single person.  This is the essence of the term ‘sovereign’ people – that each and every one has the inherent gift to think and judge for themselves.  This gift of rationality makes everyone equal – regardless of gender, wealth, age, religion. The gift of rationality is also the basis of the basic rights and freedoms of individuals.  The basic rights – also referred to as human rights – puts salience on what it means to protect and respect this gift:  since we have the capacity to think and judge for ourselves, we must first and foremost be guaranteed to live (right to life); to express our views (freedom of expression), join groups or organizations who share our opinions (freedom of organization and assembly); to pursue our desired quality of life (right to property);  and to be guaranteed that we will not be persecuted and prosecuted because of our views (right to liberty).

The role, hence, of the elected representatives and political leaders of the sovereign people is to put together rules, systems and structures that can best protect and promote this inherent gift of rationality.  The leaders are selected by the people to serve their interest – hence, the term ‘public servant.’  The people on the other hand must select from among themselves who can best advance their individual and collective well-being.

Using armed violence, hence, to impose the group’s agenda on what kind of change they want – socially, politically, and economically – violates the fundamental right of people to think and pursue the option that best satisfies their well-being.  Using armed violence to dictate the political agenda of the group assumes that the armed group – and not the sovereign people – is the preeminent judge of what is best for the community and the nation. That’s why the use of armed violence to advance a political agenda is dictatorial and should have no space in a democracy.

Democracy is at the heart of the peace process. The goal of the peace process is to remove the use of armed violence in politics, and allow everyone to compete and pursue their desired political agenda under the rule of law. Negotiations hence is done to find a peaceful settlement between the legitimate government and the armed rebel group(s).  Parallel with peace negotiations would be peacebuilding activities where communities affected by armed conflict are assisted to improve their economic and political conditions, addressing the proliferation of guns and other instruments of violence in communities, and serving justice especially to the victims of violence.

The peace process as part of the democratization project

The peace strategy of the Philippine government has to be taken within the larger frame of the democratization process.  Since 1986, the country has embarked on a process to weed out the remnants of dictatorship and facilitate the strengthening of the democratic institutions. The major challenge of democratic consolidation is finding the right mix and balance of strengthening the rootedness of institutions on the one hand, and improving the avenues for people participation in governance on the other.  Since 1986, the Philippine state has been painstakingly putting in place the pillars and bricks of a democratic system. Thirty-one years, hence, the process is still on-going.

When President Marcos was removed from power in 1986, the long road to reinstating democracy started. President Corazon Aquino released the rebel leaders imprisoned by Marcos – Jose Maria Sison, Nur Misuari, Alex Buscayno being the most prominent ones – and opened the peace negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army/ National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF).  Not long after, however, the talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF (represented by the NDF) collapsed and Sison went on exile to the Netherlands. This started the on-and-off mode of peace negotiations with the CPP/NPA/NDF that currently is on its 31st year.

The CPP/NPA/NDF would also suffer major splits, the first with the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) that signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1986 under President Corazon Aquino, and a closure agreement in 2011 under Pres. Benigno Aquino III.  The second major split happened in late 1990’s with the “RA” and “RJ” break-up.  “RA” stands for the re-affirmist or those who reaffirm their commitment to the strategy of armed struggle and the leadership of the CPP; “RJ” are the rejectionist or those who reject the strategy and leadership of the party.  Aside from several party stalwarts leaving the organization, the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa–Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPM-P/RPA-ABB), the urban guerilla group of the party, also decided to call it quits and eventually signed a ceasefire agreement with the administration of Pres. Estrada in 2000.

The MNLF would also sign the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) in 1996 under the administration of President Ramos, and the implementation of the commitments of both the Philippine government and the MNLF would immediately commence and continue until this day.

The negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) started under the Arroyo administration, and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed in 2015 under the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III.  Under the current administration of President Duterte, the implementation of the political commitments as well as the normalization process (demobilization of arms and forces) continue.

Needless to say, the peace process with the major rebel groups have steadily advanced over the years, most of which are in the implementation stage of the process.  It is only the peace negotiations with CPP/NPA/NDF that remains a challenge.

The goal of the peace process is to find a mutually acceptable political settlement so that rebel groups would voluntarily demobilize their arms and forces and partner with the government in community and state building.  When fighting ceases and the security situation stabilizes, the government can fully concentrate on improving the quality of life of the poor, and the private sector can intensify its efforts to fuel investment and generate livelihood and employment.

Fissures and Splits

Despite, the progress in the peace process, armed conflict is far from over in the Philippines. As is the trend with armed groups, splintering usually happens especially if there are several strong-willed leaders in the organization. This is what has happened with CPP/ NPA/ NDF, where the CPLA and RPA-ABB separated from the mainstream organization; this happened as well with the MNLF and the MILF.

 

The Communist Front

  1. Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA)

The Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) separated from the CPP/ NPA/ NDF in 1986, bringing with it more than a thousand members.  CPLA however would also witness a split from the time it signs the Mount Data Accord in 1986.

“The implementation of the Mount Data Peace Accord of 1986 and Administrative Order 18 were hampered by the issue of factionalism within the ranks of CPLA.  As a matter of fact, the CPLA and CBA (Cordillera Bodong Administration) history is marked by a crises of leadership, internal rifts and splits and unification.” (Peace 101, 2006:72)

In 2011, the group led by Arsenio Humiding signed with the Government of the Philippines the “Memorandum of Agreement Towards the CPLA’s final Disposition of Arms and Forces and its Transformation into a Potent Socio-Economic Unarmed Force.”  This document is regarded by some as the ‘exit’ agreement that would finally end the issue of CPLA. Humiding’s leadership, however, has been challenged by the Sugguiyao group, the latter claiming that they are the real leaders of the CPLA. The peace process nevertheless moved forward with the CPLA (led by Humiding), with President Aquino signing the Executive Order No 49, s. 2011. Livelihood and integration package were made available to members of the group, development interventions were downloaded to the communities affected by the CPLA conflict, and the CPLA converted itself into a civilian, unarmed organization called Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPD), formally removing the vestiges of the ‘liberation army’ character. (OPAPP, 2016)

Still, the Sugguiyao faction continues to challenge the group. The major problem is the fact that Sugguiyao’s group remains armed.  This, therefore, continues to pose peace and security challenge in the Cordillera communities.  Adding to this complex situation is the fact that a small unit of the New People’s Army continues to operate in the Cordilleras.  Since the CPP/ NPA/ NDF regards all those who leave the group as traitors, the safety of the members of the CPLA/ CFPD remains to be threatened.

  1. Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa–Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPM-P/RPA-ABB)

The Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) was formed in the 1980’s as the urban hit-squad unit of the CPP/NPA. The ABB broke off from the movement in the early 1990’s, largely due to disagreement over strategy and tactics, decision making process, and focus (i.e., its debate with the CPP leadership on the need to focus on urban insurrection versus rural-based guerrilla warfare).  The break-up also coincided with the RA-RJ split within the CPP/ NPA/NDF. (Intl. Crisis Group 2011)

The ABB group remained underground and pursued the urban insurrection strategy. Led by Popoy Lagman and Nilo dela Cruz, the ABB continued the assassination of key personalities in the 1990’s.  A rift between Lagman and dela Cruz would eventually lead to a split in 1997.  Lagman would be assassinated in February 2001, the culprit and mastermind remained unsolved to this day.

The faction led by dela Cruz forged an alliance with the Revolutionary Proletariat Army of the Tabara group of Negros Occidental, thus the name RPA-ABB.  This group would later on forge an alliance with Rebolusyonaryong Partido Mangagagawa ng Pilipinas (RPM-P) located in the Central Mindanao Region.

Under the administration of President Estrada, peace negotiations with the group formally commenced in January 2000, and a ceasefire agreement was entered between the Government and the RPM-P/ RPA-ABB on 21 June 2000. This ceasefire remains to this day.

However, a split would later happen in the group.  In 2007, the Tabara-Paduano Group (TPG) and the Nilo dela Cruz group (NDG) parted ways.  This posed a problem with the government, considering that several confidence building activities have already been done to pave the way for an eventual formal peace agreement between the Government and the rebel group. Given the split, the government had to deal with the two factions.  Unfortunately with the Nilo dela Cruz group, it was haunted by another split, allegedly between Nilo dela Cruz and a faction led by his own son.  Hence, the government moved forward with the peace process with the Tabara-Paduano Group, and continues to wait for the NDG to settle their leadership issue.

  1. Communist Party of the Philippines/ New People’s Army/ National Democratic Front (CPP/ NPA/ NDF)

The insurgency problem of the CPP-NPA has spanned four decades[1] and counting. Formal peace negotiations were launched during the time of President Corazon Aquino, and to date, has spanned 31 years, six (6) Panels and five (5) presidencies, with President Duterte as the 6th President to confront the problem. Over 40 rounds of negotiations have been completed since 1992.  Both parties have agreed to adopt The Hague Agreement in 1992 where it is stipulated that four (4) substantive agenda must be agreed upon by both parties to end the armed rebellion.  These four agenda items are (a) Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL); (b) Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reform (CASER); (c) Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reform (CAPR); and (d) End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces (EOF-DOF). [2]

More than ten (10) Agreements and Joint Statements on procedure have been issued since the start of the negotiations. However, of these number, only one substantive agreement, the CARHRIHL has been achieved; others are simply statements and/or agreement on procedures.

 While the strength of the NPA peaked at, allegedly 25,000 during the mid-80’s,[3] it significantly decreased during the period from 1986 to 1995 due to the following factors: the removal of Marcos and the return to the democratic system, election of popular Presidents, increased confidence towards the government, the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Lambat Bitag, and the military campaign plans of the AFP. “A confidential Philippine government assessment obtained by The Associated Press says the number of guerrillas declined to 3,800 with more than 4,500 firearms in the first half of 2016, with about 700 of the country’s 42,000 villages affected by the insurgency.”[4]  If these figures are accurate, then it means that the 3,800 NPA members only constitute .0038% of the population (at 100M population), and the 700 villages (Barangays) that are affected by their presence only constitute 1.67% of all the 42,000 Barangays in the country.

The negotiations with the CPP/ NPA/ NDF has been an on-again-off-again arrangement.  Every change in administration creates a renewed push, and negotiations would again resume.  However, just as in the past, accusations of violations would be hurled by both sides and the goodwill period would soon be over, until the next administration comes in again.  This is the major reason why negotiations with the CPP/ NPA/ NDF continues 31 years since it started.  The rebel group has all the time to wait; usually, it is the administration in power that is on a tight schedule given its term of office. This, according to some, is the major reason for the delay in the negotiations.   Observers, however, quipped that the group is not really sincere in the negotiations and is just getting all concessions it can get, and when it can no longer do so, they leave the negotiating table and wait for the next administration to start over again.

The government, particularly from the time of Pres. Arroyo, has long suspected that the Utrecht-based NDF negotiators no longer have the command of the ground, and several events actually proved this.  Very recently, even Joma Sison and CPP leaders admitted that they have “no control over all units of the New people’s Army.”[5] Nevertheless, the government remains hopeful that achieving a peaceful political settlement is still achievable, and that the members of the armed group would tow the party-line when that happens.

Under the current administration of President Duterte, peace talks have again been revived.  The major difference this time is the fact that the President declares that he shares the same sentiment as the Communist Party.  His ties with Jose Maria Sison, his former professor at Lyceum College, was also highlighted even during the campaign.  Members of the Government peace panel for talks with the CPP/ NPA/ NDF are also known for their sympathy towards the group.  The President appointed NDF-nominated leaders in the Cabinet, and released on bail most of the alleged NDF consultants who are in prison to participate in the negotiations.  The set of general principles that puts more flesh to The Hague Agreement seem to lean on the position of the NDF.

Still, the fragility of the talks cannot be underscored.  Last February 2017, the talks again almost collapsed, when the President declared that “talks are terminated,”[6] and “JASIG[7] (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee) is terminated;”[8]  and when he ordered the “arrest (of) communist consultants,”[9] and declared “the NPA are terrorists.”  Prior to these declarations, accusations and counter accusations were hurled by both sides.  What has triggered the President’s ire, though,  was the killing of three off-duty soldiers in their civilian clothes, unarmed and had just withdrew their salary in Bukidnon.[10]  The three were killed last February 01, 2017; the bodies were riddled with 76 bullets or an average of 24 shots each, all done in close range.  The brutality of the act angered the President, leading to the harsh pronouncements and the collapse of the talks.

Since the February pronouncement of the President terminating the talks, NDF consultants out on bail were ordered to return and/or are hunted by authorities.  Other NPA leaders are also getting arrested, focused-military operations have no let-up, resulting to casualties and a number of NPA members surrendering to authorities.  The NDF lobbied heavily to have the talks revived, fielding groups especially those who are sympathetic with the CPP/ NPA/ NDF to exert pressure to the government. The President has since acquiesce to open the talks again but under certain conditions, which include “ceasing of the so-called ‘revolutionary tax’ also known as “extortion;” ceasing the ambushes on military personnel; ceasing burning of property; and ceasing provocative and hostile actions.”[11]

Still, throughout the three rounds of negotiations[12]  under the Duterte administration, there were clear indications that the NPA commanders on the ground are not in-sync with the NDF negotiators. For instance, while the unilateral ceasefires (of both parties) were in effect,[13] and especially during or shortly after the 19 to 25 January 2017 negotiations in Rome, Italy, several incidents of violent activities by the NPA have been reported:

  • On January 21, 2017, NPA members ambushed soldiers in North Cotabato[14]
  • On January 29, some 30 suspected NPA members clad in Philippine Air Force (PAF) uniforms and in full battle gear stormed the detachment of CDHI, the office in-charge of securing Pico de Loro Resort, Batangas. [15]
  • Suspected NPA rebels snatched two soldiers in a remote village in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat last Feb. 2, 2017. [16]
  • Two off-duty soldiers in civilian clothes and riding a motorcycle were taken by NPA rebels in Makilala, North Cotabato.[17]
  • On the shooting of the three soldiers in Bukidnon on 01 February 2017, Fidel Agcaoili, the head of the NDF Negotiating team, when asked, even insinuated that that it was probably the AFP who was responsible for the death of the soldiers but blame it on the NPA, not knowing that Allan Juanito, NPA spokesperson for the Northcentral Mindanao Region, already acknowledged that it was their unit who was responsible for the death of the three soldiers.[18]

Moreover, it was the NPA Spokesperson, Ka Oris Madlos who declared that the NPA is lifting its unilateral ceasefire effective February 10, 2017.

“The August 28, 2016, unilateral declaration of interim ceasefire issued by the Central Committee of the CPP (CPP-CC) and the National Operations Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-NOC) is hereby terminated,” NPA spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said in a statement.”[19]

Note that Madlos made the  pronouncement on February 1, barely a week after the 19 to 25 January 2017 round of negotiations publicly declared by the NDFP as “successful.”[20]  The timing of Madlos’ pronouncement strongly indicates the disconnect of the Utrecht-based negotiators with the dynamics of the NPA decision making on the ground.

            The point of this long treatise is the fact that the Utrecht-based negotiators have been gone far too long that they obviously have no significant clout anymore with the local leadership of the armed group.  Indicators are clear that the NPA local commands, especially the Northeast Mindanao units are operating on their own.  The notion of a cohesive, unified communist armed movement may have been true in the past, but after the great splits – with the CPLA, with the RPM-P, RPA-ABB, and with the key personalities who joined the “RJs” or the rejectionist – the Leninist’ central command concept seemingly is no longer true. The government has long suspected this divide, but it is under this current administration that this chasm between the old-guards of Utrecht and the local commands became most pronounced.

The Bangsamoro Front

  1. Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

The signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement was historic as it signals the end of the war between the Government and the MNLF.  The 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) serves as the “closure” document where both parties agree on the remaining deliverables in order for both parties to really say goodbye to armed hostilities.

The reality, however, is very different from what is written on paper.  While agreements have been signed, fighting remains an on-and-off process.

After the 1996 FPA, factions of MNLF were engaged by the government in socio-economic projects and community-driven development, i.e. the Act for Peace – Peace and Development Communities[21] during the Arroyo administration, and the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA)[22] program under the Aquino administration.  The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government also forged agreements with MNLF leadership on the establishment of peace and development monitoring mechanisms.

“The 1996 FPA had as its basis the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. The FPA provided for the establishment of an interim institution called the Southern Philippine Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), to be headed by Misuari, which would be responsible for supervising and coordinating development projects in an area designated as Special Zone for Peace and Development (SZOPAD). SZOPAD covered all the provinces specified in the Tripoli Agreement.  After three years, a plebiscite would be conducted asking the provinces on the SZOPAD whether they would like to join the “expanded” autonomous region for the Muslims. However, due in part to the disappointing performance of the SPCPD, only one additional province and one additional city joined the autonomous region – leaving the problem to fester in the other provinces.” (OPAPP-DDR Guidebook, 2016)

A Tripartite Review Process (TRP) was undertaken by the parties – the Government, the MNLF and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2007. The TRP was meant to speed up the implementation of the commitments contained in the 1996 FPA.

Meanwhile, the MNLF has divided into factions, primarily under the leadership of Nur Misuari on the one hand, and under the leadership of Muslimin G. Sema on the other. Some of the MNLF communities – primarily those allied with Sema – have been partnering with the ARMM and OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) in the development of their respective communities.  It is the group allied with Misuari who remained critical of the government’s peace and development interventions.  This ‘critical stance’ towards the government would later on manifest in the 2013 Zamboanga siege, allegedly instigated by Nur Misuari. The 2013 Zamboanga siege also hampered the TRP review process. To date, criminal charges and a warrant of arrest have been filed against Nur Misuari; but in the effort to forge peace with the MNLF-Misuari faction, the carrying out of the warrant of arrest against Misuari was suspended under the Duterte administration.[23]

  1. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

The MILF separated from the MNLF in 1977 when fifty-seven (57) MNLF leaders opposed the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. They “petitioned the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Muslim World League (MWL) for the ouster of their Chairman Nur Misuari and for the installation of MNLF Vice-Chair Salamat Hashim.[24] (OPAPP-DDR Guidebook, 2016:21)

The group formally split from the MNLF in 1984, its stronghold being in Central Mindanao, particularly in areas where the Maguindanao language is dominant.

The MILF, unlike the secular character of the MNLF, is more religious in character.  The MILF in fact aims to establish “a genuine Islamic system of government, and the application of a real Islamic way of life in all aspects of their lives.” (OPAPP-DDR Guidebook, 2016: 22)

After seventeen (17) years of on-and-off negotiations, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed in 2015 under the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III. The current administration of President Duterte is focused on the implementation of the political commitments as well as the demobilization of arms and forces as contained in the CAB.

The MILF is not immune, however, from splits. Ameril Umbra Kato formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and separated from the MILF in 2008.  Kato questioned the  “MILF’s capability to face the government in peace negotiations.”[25] The BIFF continues to fight the government and is suspected to provide shelter and cover to terrorist individuals.

Prospects for peace

Today, thirty-one years after, the peace process has moved forward but the armed conflicts are seemingly far from over.  Despite the headways achieved by the different peace tables, armed rebel groups face internal squabbles and factionalism, posing an even more challenge to the government especially in determining which faction should be recognized as the legitimate representative of the group.  The legitimacy of the leadership of said armed groups is critical in as far as formal negotiations and ultimately political concessions are concerned.

A logical and to a large extent, “face-saving” conclusion especially for rebel leaders must be achieved by the current administration to put a final period to armed rebellion. This is premised on two things: First, all of the leaders of the concerned rebel groups are ageing.  While these groups would argue that their rebellion is not dependent on leaders, the reality is that the institutional memory is and will always be lodged with the founders and the old guards. While the founders are alive, they continue to hold moral suasion over the younger leaders and members. But moral suasion and control are two different things.  And this leads us to the second concern – the rebel organizations have experienced splits along the way, and the longer the peace settlement is achieved, the greater is the danger of younger cadres breaking up into several more factions. Hence, while the group is still intact and can be reigned-in by the leadership, a political settlement must be achieved.

If one looks closely, the root of the decades long conflict has already been identified by the National Unification Commission (NUC) Report to President Fidel V. Ramos in 1993.  Said report was the result of nationwide consultations especially at the regional and provincial levels held in 1992 to 1993.  The report classified into five categories the root causes of Philippine internal armed conflicts:

  1. Massive and abject poverty and economic inequity, particularly in the distribution of wealth and control over the resource base for livelihood;
  1. Poor governance, including lack of basic social services, absenteeism of elected local officials, corruption and inefficiency in government bureaucracy, and poor implementation of laws, including those to protect the environment;
  1. Injustice, abuse of those in authority and power, violations of human rights, inequity, corruption and delays in the administration of justice;
  1. Structural inequities in the political system, including control by an elite minority, traditional politicians and political dynasties, and enforcement of such control through private armies; and
  1. Exploitation and marginalization of indigenous cultural communities, including lack of respect for and recognition of ancestral domain and indigenous legal and political systems.

From the time of President Corazon Aquino, the convergence strategy has already been used in varying degrees by the different administrations. However, the limitations of the approach undertaken in the past was either it was concentrated only with the military or there was no organizational and structural support to coordinate the convergence of efforts.

The convergence of government programs is the peacebuilding component of the peace process and is meant to complement the peace negotiations.  It hopes to bring services to conflict affected areas.

Under the Aquino administration, two mechanisms of convergence were created. The first is the PAMANA, a program that is solely dedicated to bring development and good governance in conflict affected communities; second is the Whole of Nation Approach (WNA), an inter-agency platform that is primarily focused on short-term and immediate needs of conflict affected communities.

PAMANA was led by OPAPP, and technical working groups (TWG) composed of the agencies involved in the implementation of programs were created.  The TWG is meant for agencies to coordinate and synchronize their projects to maximize the impact in conflict affected communities. Provincial-level TWGs as well as a national-level TWG allowed for closer coordination, both in policy and operations.

The WNA was led by the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace through the Executive Director of the Cluster. The WNA initiated service caravans that bring together national agencies and local agencies to visit and provide services to select conflict affected areas.  Aside from being a ‘government on wheels’ type of intervention, the bigger role of the WNA’s Service Caravan is to bring to the attention of national agencies the situation in conflict affected areas, at the same time, impress upon the residents of these communities the solidarity of national government leaders to address their plight.

In order to ensure continuity of the pertinent programs by the agencies, it is important that government issues a national security policy and strategy to serve as anchor for the government’s cohesive security-related plans, programs, projects and activities. It will tie and align campaign plans on internal security operations (ISO) and support to peace initiatives and community relations with government’s diplomatic, legal, and development efforts.

As for the peace negotiations, only the peace table with the CPP/ NDF/ NPA remains; the other, as discussed, are already in various degrees of implementation of the political settlements.  It is crucial, thus to revisit the approach with the communist insurgents.  Apart from the obvious disconnect between the Utrecht-based negotiators and the local NPA commands, it was reported in March 2017 that the CPP has elected new and younger leaders.[26]  Given that the Utrech-based leaders have been in exile for more than 30 years, the young cadres of the rebel group most likely have very little encounter with the NDF panel, Sison, Agcaoili, Jalandoni, Ledesma, and de Lima. The generation-gap, the length of time that the Utrecht-based negotiators have been away, and the physical distance of the NDF negotiators and the local NPA command put to question the capacity of the NDF panel to deliver on their commitment once they sign an agreement with the government.  It maybe high time to consider an alternative approach – i.e., to negotiate with the NPA local command, or as some would call, ‘local peace talks.’

Final words

While peacebuilding efforts continue from one administration to the next, it is the peace negotiation that needs particular attention.  Of the major groups discussed, only the peace table of the CPP/ NPA/ NDF remained in negotiation phase until now. This begs the question on whether the approach must be re-evaluated especially considering that the government has been negotiating with the group for 31 years.  Most if not all of the five-member panel of the NDF negotiating team are all in their late 70’s to mid-80’s and have been away from the country for decades. It is thus important to ask if the NDF negotiating panel still knows the organization they are representing and vice versa; or is it a case where the NDF panel arrogates upon itself a leadership position that is unrequited and not recognized by the group they represent?

The local leadership of the NPA have been sending clear signals that it is them, not the NDF panel in Utrecht, that call the shots.  Instead of waiting for the local command(s) to formally declare a split from the party, it is necessary that they be recognized for what and who they really are.  If the immediate objective is to end armed violence that victimizes communities, local negotiations/ local peace talks should be seriously considered. Otherwise, we might be confronted with the eventual splintering of the group into smaller local armed groups that are dispersed in a number of villages, engaging in tactical alliances with criminal gangs and syndicates.

 As for the Bangsamoro peace process, it should be noted that an added complication is the fact that terrorist organizations’ areas of operation dangerously intersect with the areas populated by MILF and MNLF members, creating a fertile condition of cross-pollination of ideologies and grievance.  It is thus crucial to show proof that political settlement actually produces positive results for communities affected by armed conflict, if only to mitigate the possibility of disgruntlement in the ranks feeding on the manipulation by and eventual recruitment of terrorist organizations.


[1] The NPA was formed in Dec 1969.

[2] A Supplemental Agreement on The Hague declares that the agreements are to be treated as sequential (i.e., to be signed one after the other, in chronological order); and that prior to moving from one agenda to the next, there has to be satisfactory implementation of the signed agreement first.  For instance, since it is CARHRIHL that was signed, there has to be satisfactory implementation of CARHRIHL by both parties before moving to the next agenda.

It must be noted that the CARHRIHL and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG) for peace talks consultants have seemingly brought the NDF, at least conceptually, to an equal status with the government.  In having these documents signed by the government, it latently implies that the CPP/ NPA/ NDF is recognized as an equal party by the Phil. Government – clearly a ‘propaganda’ win on the part of the NDF.

[3] http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/143551-cpp-npa-ndf-peace-talks

[4] http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/01/19/1664136/peace-panel-ndf-resume-peace-talks-rome

[5] http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/611450/red-leaders-admit-they-can-t-control-all-npas-says-duterte/story/

[6] http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2017/02/08/duterte-formally-ends-peace-talks-524450

[7] JASIG is a 1995 GPH-NDF agreement that guarantees that NDF consultants of the peace process will not be arrested; and GPH consultants will not be harmed if and when they are in NPA-controlled areas. Both parties have submitted the names of their respective consultants, and the list was kept in a safety deposit box in the Netherlands.  In 2011, upon the arrest of some NPA leaders claimed by the NDF as covered by JASIG, the GPH requested to validate the names with the list in the Netherlands.  Upon opening the safety box, however, it was found that the NDF list is not in hard copy but kept in a diskette that unfortunately was corrupted.  Since the list cannot be opened, the NDF requested to reconstitute the list.  The Aquino government didn’t agree, and this became a major cause of the breakdown in the talks.  Under the Duterte administration, the GPH agreed for the NDF to reconstitute their JASIG list.

[8] http://www.rappler.com/nation/160751-duterte-government-terminates-jasig

[9] http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/02/06/duterte-orders-pnp-arrest-ndfp-communist-rebels-consultant-peace-talks-terminated.html

[10] http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/04/1668890/afp-we-will-hit-them-hard

[11] http://www.rappler.com/nation/162023-palace-bilateral-ceasefire-wish-list-peace-talks

[12] The three round of negotiations happened on 22 August 2016; 07 Oct 2016; 25 January 2017  http://news.abs-cbn.com/focus/02/03/17/timeline-govt-cpp-npa-ceasefire-breakdown

[13] Both parties declared unilateral ceasefire in August 2016; both parties lifted their respective unilateral ceasefire in February 2017

[14] http://www.canadianinquirer.net/2017/01/22/npa-rebels-ambush-soldiers-in-north-cotabato-amid-rome-peace-talks/

[15] http://interaksyon.com/article/136702/suspected-npa-members-storm-resort-burn-staff-house-in-batangas-town

[16] http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/04/1668890/afp-we-will-hit-them-hard

[17] Ibid

[18] http://www.rappler.com/nation/160314-npa-kills-soldiers-bukidnon

[19] http://www.rappler.com/nation/160132-communist-rebels-end-ceasefire-peace-talks

[20] https://www.ndfp.org/joint-statement-successful-third-round-formal-talks-grp-ndfp-rome-italy/

[21] For more information of the ACT-PDC, see https://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/AnnexesFeb2013.pdf

[22] PAMANA stands for Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan.  It is a development-flagship program under the PNoy administration, meant exclusively for conflict-affected areas. It is currently being continued by the Duterte administration.

[23] The suspension of the warrant of arrest was initially until April 2017; it has since been extended until November 2017.

[24] Both Salamat and Misuari co-founded the MNLF.

[25] http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/469730/news/nation/ameril-umbra-kato-rogue-milf-leader-and-founder-of-biff

[26] http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/884917/changing-of-the-guards-cpp-elects-younger-leaders


Download this paper in this link: The PH Peace Process Experience (SRI – Apple Oreta)


DR. JENNIFER “APPLE” SANTIAGO ORETA is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Security Reform Initiative, Inc. She holds a PhD in Political Science. She has extensive research background on security sector reform, peace and conflict, and social movements. Dr Oreta was the Assistant Secretary to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in 2013 to 2016. Under her wing were the program and policy development and knowledge management and resource center of OPAPP.


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