Antonio Colina IV
DAVAO CITY – Freed consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) may not be rearrested because the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) is still in effect, government (GRP) chief peace negotiator Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III said.
This amid the threat of President Rodrigo Duterte to freed NDFP consultants that they “have to surrender or – we will hunt them down.”
Bello said in an interview with reporters here that unless the talks are officially terminated, the JASIG remains to be in full force and effect.
This JASIG guarantees immunity from “surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogation or any other similar punitive actions due to any involvement or participation in the peace negotiations. The immunity guarantees shall cover all acts and utterances made in the course of and pursuant to the purposes of the peace negotiations.”
The GRP chief negotiator added no written notice of termination has been submitted, which notice will take effect after 30 days upon receipt by their NDFP counterparts.
Bello said they are still waiting for instructions from President Rodrigo R. Duterte on the next steps after he called the communists “enemies of the state” during his second State of the National Address (SONA) last July 24.
He said there is no sign that Duterte would change his stance on the peace talks with the communists.
“You heard the President. There is no more peace talk. He has already made his point very clear. He said, ‘no more talks with CPP-NPA-NDF,’ “he said.
Duterte told reporters covering the first day of the two-day Davao Investment Conference on July 21 that since he is no longer pursuing the talks with the NDFP, their freed consultants must “surrender or – we will hunt them down.”
“No, I’m sorry please do not resist because magkagulo tayo niyan (we will be in trouble) if you resist with the firearm or with the violence there. Do not resist, surrender because ang usapan natin i-release kayo conditionally. So that you can participate in the talks and make it successful because your presence is needed,” he said this two days after the July 19 alleged ambush of his presidential guards along the Bukidnon-Davao Road by the New People’s Army (NPA).
Bello added they remain optimistic that they would still return to the peace table hopefully soon but, for now, he said, “the talks are in limbo.”
He added they had been through even worse situations in the past.
“We had worse scenarios before, during the time of former President (Gloria Macapagal) Arroyo, terminated ang talks. In other words, our panel went through worse situations, even during (President Fidel) Ramos, nagkaroon ng ganun (we had similar) scenario, pinagalitan ng Presidente (we were scolded by the President) clearly, I can remember his word, ‘sino nagsabi sa inyo na iterminate ang (Who told you to terminate the) talks? I authorize you to talk, not to terminate the talks,” he said.
A joint statement of PASAKA Confederation of Lumad and Save Our Schools Network dated last July 22, said the “lumad will lose their lives, homes, schools, their ancestral lands, and even their future if Duterte pushes through with the cancellation of the peace talks to give way to an all-out-war.”
“Has President Duterte lost his heart for the Lumad of Mindanao?,” it said.
The militant groups said they considered Duterte as an ally when he was mayor in Davao, and were grateful to him that he listened to our appeals to withdraw military and paramilitary elements in our school and communities, and how he helped facilitate our safe return to our homes.
“Now, his all-out-war, martial law extension, and recent pronouncements have alarmed us. In a time of conflict, such declarations that further incite war will put the whole country, especially Mindanao, in a disastrous path,” it said.
It said the groups claimed violations against the rights of the indigenous people have worsened while noting that 20 incidents of attacks were made against schools allegedly by the military.
“Teachers and parents were illegally detained, others have barely survived murder attempts from paramilitary troops, and nearly 800 students and teachers were forced to leave their communities,” it added.
It said the militants “are disheartened with his recent stance of only looking at the loss of soldiers from his side. What about us Lumads, Moro and peasants who have lost many of our leaders and members in the course of the all-out war and continuing plunder of our lands?”