After months of painstaking progress made by the movement for peace in the Philippines, President Duterte has taken a wrong turn by irrationally calling for the termination of peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). The President has even gone a step further in the wrong direction by threatening to arrest the NDFP peace consultants in the country as well as report those out of the country to international police. Despite the fact that Duterte’s pronouncements violate both the spirit and the letter of the agreements forged by both parties in the negotiations, NDFP representative from Mindanao Ariel Arbitario was held at a military checkpoint and arrested on February 6.
BAYAN USA calls for the immediate release of Ariel Arbitrario, who, since the time of his release in August 2016, had been working diligently to help the NDFP develop its program for the social and economic reforms needed to address the country’s chronic problems of hunger and poverty. Arbitario’s arrest violates the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), an agreement between the NDFP and GRP which was originally signed in 1995 and reaffirmed by the two parties just this past August 2016. We also call on President Duterte to release all political prisoners as he promised before and during the NDFP-GRP engagement in peace negotiations. Like Arbitrario, these prisoners are being held on trumped up charges and should never have been arrested in the first place. Their release is a matter of justice as well as a matter of compliance with the JASIG and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
We call for the continuation of the peace talks between the NDFP and the GRP, which can not be terminated by a mere statement by the President without a formal written termination per the JASIG agreement. We also call on the Duterte government to uphold all previously signed agreements and to rein in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has continued to forcibly occupy communities and kill activists defending their land and livelihood. The AFP’s trampling of the people’s fundamental human rights is reminiscent of the bloody counterinsurgency campaigns Oplan Batay Laya and Oplan Bayanihan. The impunity continues now under Oplan Kapayapaan, exposing how the AFP was never serious about abiding by its ceasefire with the New People’s Army much less working for genuine peace. Instead, the AFP tried to take advantage of the situation to launch more attacks against the people and as a pacification campaign against the NPA.
In the latest round of peace negotiations, the main topic on the table was agreements on socio-economic reforms, the “meat of the peace talks.” These would begin to address the semi-feudal semi-colonial problems that have plagued the philippines and riddled it with growing poverty rooted in widespread landlessness and inadequate food production to feed the starving people, lack of jobs in the country with wages high enough to survive, and lack of development of national industries. Forging a path that leads to the solution of these problems so that the Filipino people can thrive in their homeland and not have to flee the country to survive–this is the most compelling reason to continue the peace talks, not terminate them.