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Confrontng Current Challenges on the

Peace Front: Constraints & Opportunities
By Atty. SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR.

(Paper prepared for a conference on "Waging Peace in the Philippines Looking Back, Moving Forward," Ateneo de Manila University, 10-12 December 2002)

Greetings of Peace. Kapayapaan. Katoninongan, Paghi-daet. Kalinaw. Wassalam.

A specter is haunting Asia, the specter of terrorism and with that the "global war against terrorism." This is the main current challenge on the peace front, or more precisely the various peace fronts, in the Philippines. The post-September 11 "global war against terrorism" has set back or constrained the work for peace in much the same way as it has set back the work for human rights, whose day we of course celebrate today. The U.S.-led campaign against terrorism reflects a drift toward the militarization of the response to terrorism, and predominance of the military and military solutions in addressing not only terrorism but also rebellion and internal armed conflict, which this conference has been convened to discuss both in its 1988 and 2002 versions. The militarization of the response to terrorism and rebellion is not just a "dangerous tendency" but already a "clear and present danger" to peace processes, to the ways of peace, dialogue, persuasion, inclusion and participation. In particular, in the Philippines, it is a threat to the viability of peace negotiations with the various rebel groups.

This is, of course, most clearly demonstrated in the current state of the Philippine government's peace process with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People's Army (NPA)-National Democratic Front (NDF). With the U.S. designation of the CPP-NPA as a "foreign terrorist organization" and the Philippine President's welcoming of this in her Nine-Point Guidelines on the CPP, the "prejudicial question" has been raised by the hawks in high circles: "why are we negotiating with the CPP-NPA when we have declared them a terrorist organization?" The simplistic logic is this: The policy is we do not negotiate with terrorists; the CPP-NPA has been declared a terrorist organization; ergo, we do not negotiate with the CPP-NPA. It is not as simple as that in reality but this logic appears to have won the policy battle, at least on the level of the executive branch of government.

The logic of that policy, which naturally leads to the downgrading or even scrapping of peace negotiations in favor of military offensives or "all-out war," must be challenged, if no longer in the Cabinet then in Congress. Even the premise that "we do not negotiate with terrorists" must be challenged. I am talking not so much about whether the CPP-NPA is really terrorist. I am talking against the absolutist position of no negotiations with terrorists. Perhaps the best current counter-example is the new, ongoing Sri Lanka peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE has long been designated by the U.S. as a "foreign terrorist organization." Yet, without lifting this designation, the U.S. itself has expressed support for the Sri Lanka peace process. In Sri Lanka, as with the Philippines, there is a history, including a history of peace negotiations, that cannot just be disregarded. In the case of the Philippine government and the NDF, there has been already a decade of on-and-off peace negotiations, maybe more off than on, but which have at least produced a Comprehensive Agreement
on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

In the light of this recent history and rich resource of experience in peace negotiations not only with the NDF but also the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA), Rebolusyonaryong Alyansang Makabansa (RAM), Alyansang Tapat sa Sambayanan (ALTAS), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa (RPM) all of which, incidentally, have been called "terrorist" at one time or another, a question like "why are we negotiating with the CPP-NPA?" should no longer even be asked.

There are doves in the Cabinet like the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (PAPP) who, to his credit, has tried to maneuver within the constraints of the President's Nine-Point Guidelines by nuancing the matter: "On the issue of terrorist groups, government has adopted a policy of not dealing or negotiating with such criminal groups whose main motivation is neither political, ideological or religious. Therefore, such groups as the Abu Sayyaf, the Pentagon and other kidnap-for ransom bands are dealt with through military and police operations. Recently however, the government has had to review this policy in the light of the U.S. State Department's recent designation of the CPP-NPA as a foreign terrorist organization… The U.S.' action must be seen in the context of the U.S. role in spearheading the global campaign against terrorism and of the CPP-NPA issue as an internal matter which must be addressed through our own internal policy. In a 9-point policy guide on dealing with this issue, the government stated that while it condemns the acts of the CPP-NPA which constitute terrorist acts and demands that these acts cease immediately, open communication lines however shall continue to be maintained in pursuance of the peace efforts with the said organization." There is a small window of opportunity here for those who would advocate the primacy of peace negotiations over military action in dealing with the major rebel groups, not just the CPP-NPA-NDF but also the MILF.

But, as we said earlier, the hawks appear to have won the policy battle against the doves at the Cabinet level and, most importantly, with the President who has already laid down the hard line, which has not been softened even for Christmas. The lead hawk, namely the Secretary of National Defense, who justifiably prides himself as a thinking general, to his credit, has sharpened the policy and public debate on this matter by articulating some sophistication in his arguments, for example, that "sometimes we have to wage war to have peace" (incidentally, a line shared by the NDF), that the peace negotiations are useless "for the past 10 years, and nothing is happening," that "we are for peace, but we are not in favor of negotiations that are interminable," and so on. Have these really become the superior arguments or ideas in the policy and public debate? One current challenge on the peace front is to engage and win the argumentation on the merits of the issue, and this requires some counter-sophistication. The struggle for peace is also a struggle of ideas. Martin Ennals, in his major paper on "International Conflict Resolution" delivered at the 1988 International Conference on Conflict Resolution in the Philippines, saw fit to quote these words from the UNESCO Charter: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be created."

At another, more comprehensive or encompassing level, the "global war against terrorism" has reinforced an already dominant or hegemonic ideology of national security, particularly its thrust of counter-insurgency as the framework to address insurgency or rebellion. The peace process has become subsumed under a national or internal security framework. The peace negotiations in particular, through the PAPP, have been subject to the Cabinet Oversight Committee (COC) on Internal Security created by Executive Order No. 12 with a counter-insurgency "Strategy of Holistic Approach." A truly holistic approach called the "Six Paths to Peace," currently institutionalized in Executive Order No. 3 defining policy for government's comprehensive peace efforts, has in effect been undermined. This includes the third "path to peace" which is "peaceful, negotiated settlement with the different rebel groups."

At one level, the national security framework must be challenged and debunked once and for all as a framework of governance. The basic concept of national security as "the state or condition wherein the people's way of life and institutions, their territorial integrity and sovereignty including their well-being are protected and enhanced," on its face, would tend to exclude other ways of life and institutions such as those of the Bangsamoro (Moro nation) as well as alternative social systems like socialism. The concept lacks a sense of history and tends to focus in its operationalization on preserving the status quo from various perceived threats or threat groups. There is a need for a counter-hegemonic framework for governance and development that would better address rebellion and its root causes. Off-hand, human rights, human security, peace and development, conflict resolution and peace-building, conflict transformation any of these would be a better framework for addressing internal armed conflict.

A little more must be said about human rights as a possible policy framework because it is, after all, Human Rights Day, and because Martin Ennals highlighted human rights with quotes from the UN instruments all throughout his 1988 major paper on "International Conflict Resolution." His very starting quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law." uncannily and succinctly shows both the roots of rebellion and the best legal regime to address it. Human rights can be a framework not only for governance and development but also for conflict resolution and peace-building. After all, peace is a human right, going by the bold declaration of global civil society in its Hague Appeal for Peace 1999.

At another level, the "Six Paths" framework for a comprehensive peace process must be defended from the inroads of the national security framework. The "Six Paths" framework formulated in 1993 is still the best framework for the peace process so far not only because of its comprehensiveness but also because it was the product of a process of nation-wide consultation and consensus-building under the auspices of the National Unification Commission, thereby enjoying a broad spectrum of support both inside and outside of government. This is supposed to be government's peace policy but it has been embodied only in executive orders, which lapse with each new President or which may be revoked by any President anytime. Government policy on such matters of life and death to the nation like war and peace surely must be embodied in laws, which all Presidents have the sworn duty to faithfully execute. It is about time that peace be declared a national policy through a national peace policy act of Congress, the highest regular national policy-making authority under the Constitution. One current effort along this line is Senate Bill No. 1451 of the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Peace, National Unification, and Reconciliation which would create a Commission on Peace (or we can call it a Commission on the Peace Process or CPP for short).

The policy battle on dealing with the CPP-NPA-NDF may be over in the Cabinet but the battle should be brought to the Congressional arena where it should be carried out as part of deliberations on a national peace policy act, including whatever necessary Congressional investigations and public hearings in aid of legislation. So much the better if the Congressional debate becomes a national debate where there is people's participation in peace policy-making. Peace needs its allies, whether strategic or tactical, and there is one in no less than the Speaker of the House of Representatives who does have a track record in the peace negotiations with the NDF. He and a good number of representatives have supported a House resolution calling for the immediate resumption of formal peace talks with the NDF and the MILF.

But it is no longer enough now to call for the immediate resumption of peace talks. The on-and-off, up-and-down talks will just keep repeating themselves if there are no paradigm shifts on both sides. I am not talking about junking framework agreements like the Hague Joint Declaration with the NDF and the Tripoli Peace Agreement with the MILF. By all means, honor all such agreements. I am talking about, on one hand, the government casting aside a counter-insurgency orientation which seeks to impose a peace settlement, and on the other hand, the rebel side casting aside a framework of engaging in peace talks for mere tactical or organizational gains. There is an urgent need here for a decisive break with old bad habits something which is, of course, always a challenge.

It is also no longer enough now to call for a Christmas ceasefire which, incidentally, was pioneered as a People's Christmas Ceasefire at the 1988 version of this conference as breaking new ground for peace. This is now old ground in the GRP-NDF peace process. Breaking truly new ground here calls for nothing less than breaking the decade-old "talk and fight" mode of no ceasefire during peace talks which mode both sides have affirmed and reaffirmed to this day. It is no longer enough to just call for the implementation of the CARHRIHL which would presumably guarantee "a considerable reduction of violence" but the fighting goes on. The continued fighting itself goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Hague Joint Declaration which stipulates "specific measures of goodwill and confidence-building to create a favorable climate for peace negotiations." The "end of hostilities" is supposed to come at the end of the process but this does not necessarily preclude an interim ceasefire. After trying the "talk and fight" mode for more than a decade, both sides must be challenged to give an interim ceasefire a chance, to give it at least one decade also, for the sake of the people and of the process itself, with the best possible safeguards. This could create its own positive dynamic, including foreseeable peace dividends bringing concrete benefits to the people which in turn generates support for the peace negotiations. The challenge to peace advocates is to make a good case for an interim ceasefire, considering that both sides have their respective established positions against this.

Thus far, we have been dealing mainly with questions of war and peace policy which is partly a struggle of ideas. It is also partly, in fact mainly, a struggle of motive forces, of political support. The President drives home this point everytime she challenges peace advocates by asking where is the peace constituency, claiming a war constituency of 95% against the resumption of peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF. Peace advocates should take this challenge more seriously. One idea is to consciously and systematically work towards a peace vote at the next general elections, whatever year this is held and for whatever form of government. The idea, first and last tried in the 1992 general elections, is to elect leaders whose track record and program are good for the peace process. We all know this is easier said than done. Where will the peace votes and the peace campaigners come from? Where have all the peace advocates gone? The Philippine peace movement has admittedly lost some ground in peace-constituency building because of past and current failures or loss of momentum in peace negotiations, agreements and implementation. As we indicated at the start, the "global war against terrorism" with its militarization of the response has further eroded or weakened the work for peace as well as its constituency. Ironically, this crisis is also an opportunity for the peace movement to regain lost ground because war also gives occasion to its own anti-thesis, peace. The intensification and internationalization of internal armed conflicts has given rise to some new peace alliances (another kind of NPA) for example, "Gathering for Peace" to oppose U.S.-led wars of aggression and military intervention, and "All-Out Peace Groups" to support peace negotiations over "all-out war" with the main rebel groups. And remember it was the Vice President as then Secretary of Foreign Affairs who linked those two concerns when he was able to get the U.S. to agree that the R.P.-U.S. "Balikatan" joint military exercises shall not affect the progress of ongoing peace negotiations with the NDF and MILF.

Below the relatively quiet surface of the peace constituency are the increasingly active efforts at peace advocacy, peace education, peace research, peace zone-building and other community-based peace initiatives, especially in Mindanao. One interesting NPA (i.e. new peace alliance) there is the Mindanao Peoples' Peace Movement (MPPM) which is advocating a U.N.-supervised referendum as a peaceful and democratic process of determining political options in Muslim Mindanao. Martin Ennals was prophetic in his "Summary Review: Closing Statement" at the 1988 conference: "Perhaps the people's revolution of 1986 can be decentralized. With the confidence of the past, the Filipino people can reject violence as a means of achieving peace and assert themselves and their authority over the life and death of their citizens, and the future of their children." Peace workers have indeed acted locally, and usually more effective at that than when acting nationally. Their separate but interrelated and collective efforts at various levels, in various peace fronts, are a source of hope that eventually a critical mass consolidated into a strengthened peace movement will turn the tide in favor of peace (Atty. Soliman M. Santos, Jr., Kaiba News and Features).

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KAIBA News & Features, P.O. Box 6126, Naga City 4400.  email: alcalara@edsamail.com.ph  Tel No. 0917 8122107 Copyright © 1999  KAIBA News & Features. All rights reserved.  Revised: January 23, 2003