THE peace talks between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is off again. But the peace negotiations and process are far from over.
On February 4, less than a year after the much-welcomed resumption of the talks after being stalled during the terms of then Presidents Gloria Aquino and Benigno Aquino III, and a day after he announced the lifting of the government unilateral ceasefire, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte scrapped the peace talks with the NDFP.
At a time when naysayers from many sides are eager to pronounce kaput all prospects of the political settlement of Asia’s longest-running insurgency, it is important to assert that peace negotiations and the larger peace process cannot be simplistically equated with and reduced to the peace talks.
I draw inspiration from lawyer Rene Sarmiento, member of the GRP Panel for the talks with the NDFP who made it a point to differentiate peace talks from negotiations and process.
According to Sarmiento, the talks pertain to the face-to-face dialogue between parties, while peace negotiations include dialogue, conversations, goodwill and confidence building measures. The larger process encompasses peace, development and the culture of peace.
While the talks are limited mainly to the two panels, peace negotiations and the larger peace process afford spaces and opportunities for peace advocates, movements, civil society organizations and communities — or the civilian third party — to participate.
Domains that enable parties outside of government and revolutionary forces to engage are important because, despite initial favorable messages and measures like the release of NDFP consultants, achieving an end to this 49-year-old war will require more.
Peace advocate and researcher lawyer Soliman Santos in the publication “How Do You Solve a Problem like the GPH-NDFP Peace Process? Paradigm Shifts for 2016 and Beyond” is of the opinion that the notion of “more” includes “strategic thinking and work” and shifts in the paradigms of both parties.
The efforts of different groups and sectors to encourage both parties to resume the talks, particularly after the success of the third round that focused on social and economic reforms, are examples of the peace process at work.
However, public encouragements and related negotiation-type initiatives to do backchannel talks are inadequate to get the talks on a realistic track.
In May 2016 cognizant of the opportunities carried by a new political administration, Santos cautioned against the “temptation of a quick resumption of the negotiations without a viable framework and plan.”
Further, he held the view that “general calls to (sic) the resumption of peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict” are not enough, although he also conceded the need for more voices making such calls.
Despite statements from key actors of both panels, it is clear that the lessons of the nearly half a century of conflict, and the more than 40 rounds of talks have not been adequately distilled to lead to a discernment of the two sides between what Santos called a “peace strategy or war strategy.”
In that brief time when the unilateral ceasefires declared by the two parties had been called off, and yet the heads of the two panels were still confident about the status of the talks, many netizens were confused about what in Soliman’s analysis constituted a “conducting peace negotiations as part of a war strategy.”
Rather than be disheartened by the short fuses of government and revolutionary groups, and instead of being limited to making ineffectual general calls, civilian third party actors should also look into challenging the two parties to revisit their paradigms, and to commit to a strategy translated into a framework and plan that will bring about relief from war, and systematic measures that address the root causes of the conflict.
As part of continuing the peace process, other areas that require attention from the perspective of Santos are weak or waning interest in urban areas on the war between government troops and the New People’s Army led by the Communist Party of the Philippines mainly taking place in the countryside, and the perceived gap between the high level formal talks and community or sectoral concerns.
There is so much that can be done to sustain the GRP-NDFP peace process. We are not at the mercy of the macho and militarist mindsets that seem to have won the upper hand at present.
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