Analysis: On Issues Surrounding the Oslo Talks

BUSINESS WORLD, Carol Araullo | November 7, 2016 — I wish to put on record why I write about the peace talks and what guidelines I follow to keep my commentaries fair, that these do not run counter to the written agreements, and are contributory to the goal of reaching a just and lasting peace.

I am acutely aware of the need to give due respect to the prerogatives of the respective peace panels and the need for a media embargo on what transpires while each round of talks are ongoing. In fact, whatever I write during the actual talks is generally on positive developments or merely to describe the atmosphere without going into detail on contentious points. (To read Ms. Araullo’s piece, “Second round of peace talks on track,” please visit the link

It is another matter once the round of talks is concluded.

It stands to reason that I will include points of contention. It would be a disservice to keep painting a rosy picture when the differences between the two Parties become more sharply delineated as the talks proceed to the substantive agenda.

Mr. Espejo accuses me of impropriety for allegedly “hurl(ing) some serious issues and criticisms against the government panel… (a)nd in the same breath heap(ing) all praises to the NDFP.” I urge the reader to take the time to read my entire opinion piece and judge for herself if the accusation has any basis.

Mr. Espejo appears to be defensive about my observation that “(o)n top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER (Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reform).”

This observation however is based on fact that is verifiable. As I wrote, the GRP RWC-SER “did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP.”

Mr. Espejo’s attempt to explain away this glaring contrast between the two Parties’ preparedness to negotiate on major socioeconomic reforms is quite lame. He advances the theory that “the GRP panel are there to receive proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.” He concludes illogically that the GRP panel is “not duty bound to present its own…”

He quickly acknowledges however that “the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms.” What he conveniently omits is that several weeks before the second round of talks, the agreement was that there would be an exchange of each side’s respective draft outline and framework. Up until the second round of talks, the GRP RWC-SER had a half page listing of topics while the NDFP submitted a 16-page draft framework and outline.

Mr. Espejo notes, “The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just gestures of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity.”

Let me just inform the reader that those individuals in the NDFP delegation numbering about 60 vs. the GRP’s 50 were mainly consultants and resource persons for the NDFP RWC-SER who had been working the week before to finalize and fine tune what the NDFP would present at the 2nd round. They had also been working on overdrive to finish the NDFP 3rd draft Comprehensive Agreement on SER, giving it more flesh, updating, and fine tuning it from the 1998, 2001, and 2004 drafts all of which where made available to the GRP panel and to the public even as the talks had been embroiled in numerous impasses.

Also for the record, the release of the 18 NDFP consultants was a result of hard work by the two sides, the NDFP invoking the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) that the Duterte-appointed GRP Peace Panel accepted as valid and binding. The herculean efforts of the NDFP consultants’ lawyers, human rights advocates and an entire slew of supporters here and abroad who kept up the pressure for their release in the name of justice and the peace talks were key. The NDFP consultants were not, as Mr. Espejo simplistically puts it, “released on bail upon the insistence of the government.”

Mr. Espejo questions my writing an analysis of the ongoing GRP-NDFP peace talks since I am part of the NDFP delegation. Again let me be clear that the NDFP delegation includes resource persons such as myself and many consultants who are not necessarily organic to the NDFP.

As far as I know, the NDFP (and for that matter, the GRP) has not imposed a gag rule on any and all members of the NDFP delegation. It is up to the individual to exercise responsibility, fairness, objectivity and restraint as is warranted to keep the peace talks going on a productive track. The text of the bilateral statements and agreements are an objective basis for testing the veracity of any analyses or opinion pieces that anyone may choose to write.

I assume that Mr. Espejo, who is part of the GRP “communications group,” is not writing for himself alone but in behalf of his bosses. In fact he keeps making reference to “minutes” of the peace negotiations citing them as basis for his “contra en punto.” In this respect, Mr. Espejo appears to have quite an advantage in being able to cite purported official minutes. He again conveniently omits that he is citing GRP minutes and interpreting them to bolster his arguments that are presumably being made to “communicate” the GRP views and propaganda line.

Lastly, I call the attention of readers to two news reports that show even while the talks were ongoing (in fact, as early as Oct. 8) both the GRP and NDFP panels had issued statements to the media regarding the progress and lack of it with regard to CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms), amnesty, and cease-fire. It also appears that it was the GRP who first made public its criticism of or displeasure at the NDFP’s position vis-à-vis said agenda items.

Thus news reports, mostly citing GRP and NDFP panel members and consultants had already mentioned and described in detail what I later wrote about in my column. Mr. Espejo now vehemently protests, as though I am the first to divulge and comment on what transpired in the second round of talks.

Why did Mr. Espejo, and for that matter OPAPP, not protest these earlier statements and news reports? Could it be because it was the GRP who “drew first blood” so to speak, and that the NDFP was merely issuing rejoinders to clarify?



(This is my response to Mr. Edwin G. Espejo, a member of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Peace Panel Communications Group, who wrote a piece on about the second round of GRP-NDFP [National Democratic Front of the Philippines] peace talks held last Oct. 6 to 9.)





Contrapunto: Regarding Carol Araullo’s take on the Oslo talks

Edwin Espejo | October 19, 2016


Here are my thoughts (in itals) on the points she raised in her BusinessWorld column.

Dr. Carol Araullo: The Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) on Social and Economic Reforms (SER) had a much more difficult time getting their act together despite working overtime and holding many one-sided caucuses in between.

Who was it who said that launching a revolution is no picnic? Just because the two parties are holding peace negotiations doesn’t mean the road to peace is already easy. What did she mean by one-sided caucuses, anyway?

Araullo: Negotiations on SER are facing serious if not overwhelming odds beginning with a whale of a difference in the two parties’ appreciation of what is wrong with the system and ergo what reforms are needed to address the roots of the armed conflict.

From the very start, the government panel has maintained that the road to peace is full of bumps. Both panels agree that the heart and soul – the meat – of the negotiations are the social and economic reform agenda. And between a status quo and an overhaul, that’s indeed a whale of a difference. Did anybody expect otherwise?

Araullo: For the GRP, it is a matter of making the system work better, to be more “inclusive,” be less bureaucratic or more responsive to the poor and underprivileged sections of society, and, perhaps, more accommodating to the demands of the NDFP forces that have been fighting for major reforms.

This is a rather sweeping statement. While the government indeed is striving to be more inclusive, it is prepared to go beyond the issue of governance and delivery of services. “Accommodating to the demands of the DFP forces” is rather too gracious. The fact that it is the government (under Duterte) that pushed for the resumption of the peace talks is quite a great leap from previous governments.

Not only that, President Duterte has taken several bold steps to prove his determination and commitment to end the war.

The sheer number of NDFP delegation (rounding up to 60) in the Oslo 2nd round, more than a handful of them released on bail upon the insistence of the government, is more than just a gesture of goodwill and manifestation of sincerity. (READ: Who’s who: Political prisoners released for Oslo talks)

That the negotiations have come this far is a testament to the political will of the Duterte government.

Araullo: On top of contrasting if not diametrically opposed points of view, was the seeming lackadaisical preparation of the GRP RWC-SER. They did not even have an honest-to-goodness draft outline comparable to the fleshed-out one submitted by the NDFP.

Again, one is tempted to conclude that Ms. Araullo was expecting the government to outline a reform agenda that will suit the expectations of the NDFP.

As government representatives extending their hands of peace, members of the GRP panel are there to receive the proposed reform agenda from the group that is challenging its authority.

It is not duty-bound to present its own although the agreement during the first round of talks in August is that both parties are going to agree on the outline and framework of discussions on social and economic reforms.

As shown in the minutes and results of the August rounds of Oslo talks, it was the NDFP which was submitting the proposed language and tenor of the joint statement with the government panel reviewing, revising and agreeing to the final cut.

As for the government, it would, as much as possible, maintain the status quo and work within the framework of the existing bureaucracy. But it recognizes that there are many failures in governance that are not solely attributable to implementation but also rooted in the bureaucracy itself. Hence, the need for reforms.

And President Duterte has clearly stated his desire to institute reforms. Inviting the NDF to the negotiating table is one way of accommodating and jumpstarting such reforms.

Araullo: The GRP panel seemed to expect the NDFP to agree to the premise that socioeconomic reforms should dovetail the way the GRP is organized. The current panel apparently has not discarded the framework of its predecessors in keeping reforms strictly within the bounds of the GRP Constitution and legal processes.

She could not be more entirely wrong on this.

The reason why the GRP panel is soliciting the cooperation of the bureaucracy is because it is the only entity that has experience in governance. Governments are so organized that way – whether under their current form or any other forms in the future. There will always be a bureaucracy.

To again accuse the panel of not having departed from negotiating within the framework of the Constitution is to belittle the capacity of the GRP panel to appreciate its role as negotiators capable of thinking out of the box in the same manner that the President has approached the peace process in the most unconventional way.

The GRP panel is there to protect the President. That is why there are legal processes that must be observed. For after all, the success or failure of the negotiations hinges on the political will of the President.

Araullo: In contrast, the NDFP presented a radically different analysis of what ails Philippine society and consequently what are the major socioeconomic reforms needed to solve these ills. The NDFP-proposed outline reflected this in terms of highlighting the long-standing problem of land monopoly by a few, necessitating a genuine land reform program anchored on the principle of land to the tiller.

Coming from a member of the NDFP delegation, this is obviously self-serving.

Araullo: Based on the GRP’s conduct at the second round of formal talks, it has become increasingly obvious that it remains fixated on “reducing the levels of violence” by clinching a bilateral cease-fire and giving this primacy over the negotiations on basic social, economic and political reforms.

Who does not want to end the violence in the countryside, anyway?

Again, Ms Araullo misses the point here. To say that the government is giving primacy to the bilateral ceasefire over a reform agenda is another sweeping statement. This shows her contempt of the processes of the peace negotiations. Unless she has been designated as the official spokesperson of the NDFP panel?

Araullo: Thornier still is the matter of the GRP’s release of more than 400 political prisoners including three remaining JASIG-protected NDFP consultants who are serving time in the National Penitentiary after having been convicted on trumped-up common crimes. (READ: PH starts process of freeing political prisoners)

First, it was the NDFP that tied up the bilateral ceasefire to the release of detained NDF consultants and members despite the fact that these two issues were separate and distinct based on language of the August 2016 joint statement.

Second, the August rounds clearly stated that the agenda in the peace talks are to be discussed and negotiated simultaneously although not independent of each other.

But the GRP panel has not reneged and is not reneging on its commitment to work and recommend for the early release of detained rebel leaders and members.

As borne out again by the discussions and minutes of the October 2nd round of talks, what have been committed in August were already delivered – a draft amnesty proclamation for detained rebels as submitted in a list provided by the NDF on September 15 and an option for the NDFP lawyers to pursue their early release which, according to the discussions, the NDF lawyers failed to act on in a timely manner thus the delay in speeding up the release process.

These are but few of my own observations of what transpired during the two rounds of talks and as a reaction to what Dr. Araullo wrote in her column. That is why I believe there was wisdom in not opening up the plenary session to the press and not allowing any official audio recording of the discussions. Because any agreements or non-agreements will be subject to the concurrence and consensus of the negotiating panels.

For that, I will not go beyond what has been said.