End of peace talks to affect peasants, advocate says

THE impending cancellation of the peace talks between the government and the Communist rebels will have an impact on the thousands of peasants and their desire to have their own land, a peace expert said.

During his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday, July 24, President Rodrigo Duterte announced he no longer wants the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to continue citing the ambush of his security escorts in Arakan, North Cotabato recently.

But for Satur Ocampo, this would also mean that the agreements achieved between the two parties would be nullified, particularly on the provision on agrarian reforms.

Ocampo is serving as an “independent cooperator” and has been invited to observe the peace negotiation between the Moro separatists (MILF and MNLF) and the government in the past. He is a participant on the discussions on political and Constitutional reforms in the present peace talks.

He is also a leader of the “Makabayan Bloc,” a coalition of progressive parties in the country like Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, among others.

After being shelved during the previous administration, Duterte has revived the negotiations as part of his agenda to pursue lasting peace especially in Mindanao.

The scrapping of the negotiations, Ocampo said, would have an impact on the peasants’ struggle in that the agrarian reform is one of the agreements reached by both sides during the recent talks.

In the third round of meetings between the two parties in Rome, Italy, the panelists had agreed in principle to distribute land, under the agrarian reform, free of charge to the peasants, he noted.

He said the President was amenable to this agreement as the government has prepared to pay the land owners.

That agreement in principle was affirmed during the fourth round of the talks.

Ocampo said the peasants are still waiting for the realization of this agreement to put into effect the distribution of land as a component of the peace talks.

According to the Department of Agrarian Reform, an estimated 7.8 million hectares of land is covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp).

As of December 31, 2013, the government has acquired and distributed 6.9 million hectares to the Carp beneficiaries, equivalent to 88 percent of the total land subject to Carp. Thousands more were purchased and awarded to peasants in the succeeding years.

“What will the peasants say if the peace talks are to be officially terminated? It would invalidate the commitment of the government to implement the genuine agrarian reform that will benefit the peasants,” he said in a phone interview late Wednesday night.

Ocampo said the previous presidencies have failed to fully carry out the land reform and if Duterte can implement it, it will be his “crowning achievement.”

But if the President fails, he said, the farmers will accuse him of being pro-landlord. “They would say [to Duterte], ‘you are fake, we thought you are a friend of the landless farmers,’” he added.

Ocampo is presently in Iligan City as part of the team conducting the second National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission, held July 27 to 29, where he will talk to the evacuees from Marawi City in hopes of bringing their voice to the Makabayan Bloc and to Congress.

Aside from providing relief to at least 10,000 evacuees, the Mission is also a means to express interfaith solidarity and unity with the evacuees and other victims of human rights violations.

The group will also continue to document and collage the human rights situation in Marawi that would aid the survivors’ demand for state accountability and indemnification.
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