Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the verge of a breakdown


On March 16, 1998, the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Hailed by both sides as a unique and landmark agreement, CARHRIHL is actually a superfluous agreement.

The GRP and the NDF panels set the objectives of CARHRIHL as follows:

1. To guarantee the protection of human rights to all Filipinos under all circumstances, especially the workers, peasants, and other poor people;

2. To affirm and apply the principles of international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and individual civilians, as well as persons who do not take direct part or who have ceased to take part in the armed hostilities, including persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict;

3. To establish effective mechanisms and measures for realizing, monitoring, verifying, and ensuring compliance with the provisions of this Agreement; and

4. To pave the way for comprehensive agreements on economic, social, and political reforms that will ensure the attainment of a just and lasting peace.
Members of the New People's Army (NPA) belonging to the Pulang Bagani Command
 celebrate the 40th Founding Anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
 Photo courtesy of AKP Images. Clic klink to view "Inside the Philippines New People's
CARHRIHL in fact contained provisions already covered by various international declarations and conventions on human rights and international humanitarian law, which the Philippine government had long signed and ratified and which the NDF had also in principle adhered to.

Among the most important international declarations and conventions that the Philippines has agreed to or ratified are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (both of which entered into force in 1976), the Geneva Conventions (1949), and Protocol II (1977). In addition, both the GRP and the NDF acknowledged that CARHRIHL includes principles of human rights and international humanitarian law embodied in these instruments.

The Philippines has also in place a Commission on Human Rights and there is a wide network of human-rights groups aligned or sympathetic with the NDF, all human rights bodies that are supposed to address human rights violations.

Even the Rules for Combatants (1989) of the Philippine military direct all military personnel in the field to strictly observe and apply humanitarian principles in the performance of their duties.

So, why the need for CARHRIHL?

After almost 14 years from its adoption, CARHRIHL has barely passed through the first stage of the agreement while the GRP and the NDF panels continue to struggle with their effort to broker a peace agreement.

The spokesperson for the government panel clearly sums up its position on alleged violations of human rights by the government: “So long as there is conflict, there will always be circumstances that can be perceived as human rights violations.”

To the government only the absence of conflict would end violations to human rights. It is a state of war from their point of view. If that would be the case, the laws of war would apply. Should the government be proved culpable of violations of international humanitarian law, the government must be brought to the international criminal court for war crimes. President Noynoy Aquino and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could be prosecuted as war criminals under the doctrine of command responsibility for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla underlined the role of the military and
police  in pursuing a negotiated political settlement with the Communist Party of the
Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front Panel (CPP-NPA-NDF).
So much about the impeachment of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the prosecution of former President Gloria Arroyo for election sabotage and corruption, or the imminent imposition of an authoritarian government by President Aquino. The government must be teetering on the verge of a political breakdown—this is the looming crisis in our hands.

But back to CARHRIHL.

The NDF panel disagrees with the government’s position. Unless the government addresses the root causes of conflict, the NDF maintains that there will always be armed resistance by the people. Hence, the NDF believes that the government should respect human rights and resume negotiations for lasting peace.

The government, however, is not playing naïve. It believes that the NDF is using human rights violations and the CARHRIHL as a ploy to achieve belligerent status under international law. Currently, however, nations refrain from explicitly recognizing rebels as belligerents to maintain their flexibility in dealing with the parties in conflict. The only alternative for the NDF is to force the government back to the negotiations table with a foreign government as intermediary, thus creating the illusion of two sovereign powers trying to negotiate for peace.
Organizational structure of the NDF. Photo courtesy of by nina de amado. Click
link to view interview with Luis Jalandoni, chairperson of the NDF Panel, by an
Australian reporter,
But lasting peace is not even in the horizon. Here we have a government that is best described as a “cacique” democracy, dominated by a politico-economic elite composed of power families that manipulate elections through patronage, corruption and violence. On the other end of the spectrum, is a dissident organization that seeks to overthrow the government and establish a “people’s democracy” along the lines of a Stalinist-Maoist one-party dictatorship. Both are scary options, and the people who have been numbed by decades of failed experiments in democratic government would, perhaps, simply choose the status quo. With that in mind, the government is wielding its heavy military stick to preserve itself.

Both the government and the NDF would rather destroy each other militarily as well as use the peace talks as a diversionary tactic. Neither side has demonstrated genuine sincerity to the peace process.

Not to mention, the Philippines is also besieged on its southern flank by a secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a war waged for self-determination by Filipino Moslems who have never been subjugated either by colonial power or by the central government for more than five centuries. The Moslem separatists appear to have a better chance in creating their own well-delineated Bangsamoro nation, except for the military intervention by U.S. Special Forces under the guise of counterterrorism, which has been allowed by the previous and present Philippine governments.

Now the incumbent government of President Aquino is beset by opposition from the branch of government that is, under the principle of separation of powers, a co-equal branch of the executive. We have a government besieged from the left, from the right and centre, and perhaps, even from its private cordon sanitaire that is responsible for containing the president’s limited ability to govern.

Not just the peace talks with the NDF and the MILF, the entrenched politico-economic elite that dominates the state also appears to handicap President Aquino in governing the country. The impeachment of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and the imprisonment of a former president are manifestations of a bitter contest between these elitist elements, while the majority of the marginalized classes continue to pine for genuine political and economic reforms.

This contest between various sectors of the society could be a linchpin for another “people power” uprising, similar to the popular uprising against the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, and against corruption in the Estrada government in 2001. Or, perhaps, military mutinies like the failed putsches against the administration of President Corazon Aquino. It has been said that a weak government is always an effective reason for a coup d'état.

President Noynoy Aquino’s hands are full nowadays. Two years in his presidency, Aquino has yet to deliver on his election campaign promise to rid the government of corruption. Two insurgencies are testing his leadership as Commander-in- Chief. What is he going to do when the politico-economic elite that dominates the present oligarchic state turns its back against him?

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