THE ROLES OF PAST PRESIDENTS OF THE REPUBLIC IN SEARCH FOR LASTING PEACE (1st of 5 parts)
The time of the late-President Corazon Cojuanco-Aquino (1986-1992)
Former President Corazon C. Aquino carved out her own niche in Philippine history when she claimed the presidency through the peaceful People Power I known as the EDSA People’s Revolution in February of 1986.
She tried to heal the wounds of a divided nation when she announced her policy of reconciliation through peace negotiations with the communist insurgents and the Muslim secessionists. For a start, and as a showcase of her sincerity, she issued an executive clemency to political detainees that included Joma Sison. On top of this, she repealed all oppressive martial law decrees of her immediate predecessor, former President Marcos. And on April 20, 1986 she issued her clarion call for an indefinite ceasefire to clear the path for the peace talks.
In May 1986, preliminary negotiations between the government and the NDF began with a focus on possible cessation of hostilities; her government also provided safety guarantees for communist and Muslim representatives to the peace talks. Between the Muslims and the communists, the first to come to the peace talk were the latter. On June 26, 1986 the first three-man GRP Peace Panel was constituted with the following as members: then Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights Jose Diokno (who was later replaced by Ma. Serena Diokno when he fell ill and could no longer perform his duties); then Agriculture Sec. Ramon Mitra, Jr.; and Commission on Audit Chairman Teofisto Guingona. The NDF Panel was made up of four-person team consisting of Antonio Zumel, Satur Ocampo, Rafael Salas and Carolina Malay.
For reasons that were not made clear, the initial negotiations were held in secret before the ceasefire agreement of November 27, 1986 and then openly during the 60-day ceasefire that followed. On December 5, 1986 a five-member National Ceasefire Committee was formed to supervise the ceasefire; it was headed by Bishop Antonio Fortich of Bacolod City.
On December 10, 1986 a nationwide ceasefire took effect. In a joint statement, the government and NDF panels affirmed their commitments to uphold the ceasefire and asked for full cooperation from all sides to support the peace effort. During this period, the government proposed a P1-Billion program for the rehabilitation of rebels but the NDF insisted on a radical land reform to be implemented instead.
On December 23, 1986 the NDF panel submitted a counter-proposal for a negotiated settlement outlining “basic premises and objectives.” The NDF Paper define the roots on insurgency as “poverty, violation of civil liberties, lack of participation of the working classes, and the continued US domination” even as it sought the creation of a new coalition government and the calling of a constituent assembly. The government panel presented its proposal untitled, “Proposal of the government of the Republic of the Philippines to the NDF” with the general goals of alleviating poverty, generate productive employment, and promoting equity and social justice. The government proposed socio-economic programs as starting points, but the NDF wanted too begin with human rights issues. From the very start, both Panels were “clawing at each other.”
A compromise formula was proposed by the GRP panel head, the former Senator Jose Diokno which was “Food and Freedom, Jobs and Justice” in an attempt at a compromise but to no avail. In January 1987, the first formal peace negotiations dealing with substantive issues took place but it was short-lived. The differences between the frameworks presented by both sides to address socio-economic and political issues proved to be huge hurdles.
On January 22, 1987 the NDF walked out of the negotiations in the Netherlands after farmers and demonstrators threw stones at anti-riot police in Manila. The demonstrators tried to enter the area near Malacanang (official residence of Philippine President) but were prevented from doing so by the anti-riot police in a bloody clash. The NDF and GRP decided to suspend the negotiations while keeping ceasefire in effect. And down south Philippines in Mindanao Island many families were displaced in the barangays of Kiwalan and Dalipuga, all of Iligan City when army troopers continued to clash with the NPAs who were extorting money or harassing the people in the area. It could be gleaned that the communists, right from the very start of the peace talks, were using violent means as possible bargaining chips but the government refused to be intimidated and pursued the peace process, through a clear and defined path, instead.
After this sad episode, the government changed strategy: pursue peace talks through dialogues with the regional leaders of the CPP-NPA-NDF. A news set of government peace negotiators was created headed by then Senator Teofisto Guingona, Jr. as the GRP panel chairman with Jaime Guerrero and Alice Villadolid as members. Guingona appointed regional peace negotiators in all 12 regions of the country. He appointed the Roman Catholic Bishops, who also served in the ceasefire committees, as regional negotiators.
In 1987, President Cory Aquino created the Office of the Peace Commissioner (OPC), forerunner of the OPAPP, under Administrative Order No. 30, “Defining the Systematic Approach and Administrative Frame work for the Government’s Peace Effort” under the join Executive-Legislative Peace Council. She also appointed then Health Secretary Alfredo Bengson as Peace Commissioner. While the government was pursuing peace for the people it swore to protect, the CPP-NPA-NDF refused to condescend to peace for the sake of the Filipino people.
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