Thursday, April 3, 2014

Negotiating in bad faith

In his novel, The Dogs of War (1974), Frederick Forsyth wrote about a group of mercenary soldiers hired to depose a fictional government in Africa. Forsyth called this group the dogs of war, much like the wild pack of soldiers Shakespeare referred to in his play, Julius Caesar.
But when the Philippine military named the two dogs and a cat they took into custody during the recent arrest of two high-ranking members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as “Ben,” “Wilma” and “Joma,” obviously after the top leaders of the Communist movement, it was a cheap shot, an unfair and malicious attack against their prized captives. On other hand, Forsyth’s dogs of war could probably aptly describe the military like a wild bunch unleashed to pounce on their hated adversaries.
Top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Benito Tiamzon and his
wife Wilma Austria raise their fists in defiance on their way to their hastily
arranged inquest in Manila after being arrested in Cebu last March 22.
The military also mockingly announced that the well-groomed pets owned by the captured Communist leaders, Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, were better fed than the soldiers in the army whose monthly combat salary wasn’t even sufficient to pay for the pets’ food. Perhaps, the military was sending a hidden message to let the government hear that they are not being taken cared of unlike the Tiamzons’ pets.
We can excuse Forsyth in describing his villains as dogs of war since he was only writing a fictional tale. On the other hand, the military had no valid excuse to be insensitive and thoughtless in naming their hostages after their owners. The military’s insensitivity is not just to their prisoners, but to dogs and cats in general, who also have feelings and in fact are more sensitive than people realize.
Dogs are very sensitive souls, and if only they could communicate like human beings, they could have let those soldiers know how they felt. Not because they were named after their owners, but it’s just that naming pets is not something to treat like a joke, especially one that is made in poor taste.
No species has developed a closer relationship with humanity than the dog, or the cat. We name our pets when we’re prepared to adopt them, to bring them to our homes to become part of our families like our own children. Not to name them in order to poke fun at their owners. These soldiers do not understand what it is about dogs that allows them to live at ease with people.
Not so many people really know who the Tiamzons are in person. Just because they were Communists and have lived in the shadows for almost four decades, many who believe the alternative to Communism is far superior think it is perfectly all right to treat the Tiamzons like animals, or even worse than criminals. But it is their affection for dogs and cats that separates them from most of the worst among us who cannot appreciate that such animals also have feelings and rights like people.
It is this cavalier attitude of the military and the government that makes the so-called peace negotiations with the rebels really a joke, a process that is wrought from the start with insincerity and lack of genuineness of purpose in achieving the goal of lasting peace. It makes the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) issued by the government to the rebel participants an ineffectual document of safe passage. Because the government believes they unilaterally impose the JASIG guarantees, that at any time the government wishes to suspend the JASIG’s effect, they can always round up and detain the rebel leaders.
Before the capture of Benny Tiamzon and Wilma Austria, other consultants of the CPP and the National Democratic Front (NDF) were also snatched by the military on the pretext that the JASIG has lost its effect because of the impasse in the negotiations.
Yet the JASIG guarantees were the product of an agreement, therefore, they can be suspended only if both parties also agreed to do so. But not in the present case. It was only the government who decided on its own irrespective of the other party that the JASIG guarantees are no longer operative since the negotiations were stalled.
According to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, former head of the government peace panel, Benito Tiamzon and Wilma Austria should be released if they were carrying genuine immunity papers during their arrest. Duterte added that the government should honour its commitment under the JASIG.
Under the JASIG, all rebels duly accredited as participants in the negotiations either directly or as consultants are guaranteed free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines. JASIG’s protection covers immunity from surveillance, harassment, search, arrest, detention, prosecution and interrogations or any other similar punitive actions due to involvement or participation in the peace negotiations.
JASIG’s immunity is considered necessary in facilitating the peace negotiations between the government and the rebel group because it helps create and sustain an environment conducive to peace talks. It also attracted the Royal Norwegian Government to act as facilitator because of the JASIG guarantees. JASIG further enhances political stability in the Philippines and the government’s peaceful approach towards local insurgency, and this process is made known to the global community.
But when the Philippine government asserts that the JASIG guarantees are suspended due to the impasse in the negotiations, it was making a unilateral decision that has not been agreed by the parties. Besides, the process was never concluded nor deemed terminated. It must also be considered that the JASIG guarantees were the most contentious and toughest to negotiate because they covered essentially the procedural agreements between the parties before they could really commence the negotiations. To say, then, that JASIG has been suspended is in bad faith and without the agreement of the other party.

The arrest of Tiamzon and Austria and the other NDF consultants before them despite their JASIG accreditation, however, signals a clear indication that repression of the 45-year old insurgency continues and it is going on with impunity.
Recently, the Philippine Supreme Court has ordered the trial with dispatch of the trumped-up murder charges against former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo and CPP-NDF consultants in the peace negotiations Randall Echanis, Rafael Baylosis and Vicente Ladlad in connection with the mass graves discovered in Leyte eight years ago. The mass graves discovered by the Philippine Army were said to contain the remains of individuals believed to be victims of “Operation Venereal Disease” launched by the CPP-NDF’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), to purge their ranks of suspected military informers and collaborators which happened 23 years ago.
Also early this week, the Philippine military reported the mass surrender of NPA supporters from Cagayan de Oro City to the army’s 14th Infantry Division, said surrenderees included civilians and children. Using a hoax surrender by the NPA is a patented pys-war tactic by the Philippine military to flush out other insurgents from their mass base and one of the biggest sources of corruption for AFP field commanders in pocketing the reward money from the government’s Social Integration Program for firearms surrendered.
Now the government panel is announcing plans to resume the peace negotiations with the Communist rebel group, but insisting that they are willing to negotiate only with CPP leaders based in the Philippines, and not with their counterparts in Utrecht in Netherlands.
Where is good faith and trust in the negotiations when at the same time the government is rounding up and detaining the rebel forces? Immunity from arrest was the purpose for installing the JASIG guarantees in the first place but the government apparently respects the agreement only when it works to their advantage.
Obviously the government treats the Muslim rebel forces under the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) quite differently from the CPP-NDF and other Muslim factions. The pivotal role of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in facilitating the negotiations between the government and the MILF has been hailed and credited with the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
It should be recalled that the father of the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Haji Abdul Razak bin Haji Dato’ Hussein, was also Malaysia’s prime minister from 1970 to 1976. It was also common knowledge during that time that he supported the Muslim insurgency under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) by providing the rebels with arms, training and funds. The support of the former Malaysian PM was conditional on the Muslim insurgents preventing the government in Manila from pursuing its Sabah claim.
With the change in the leadership of the Muslim insurgency, the current Malaysian Prime Minister shifted his support to the MILF and he became the chief facilitator of the Bangsamoro framework agreement.
Would the motive for the current Malaysian Prime Minister’s involvement in bringing the Philippine government and the MILF to the table be the same as his father’s?
In both peace negotiations by the government with the MILF and the CPP-NDF, it is crystal clear that the government is hiding its true intentions. Acquiescing to the integrity of Malaysia’s territorial right over Sabah and using JASIG as a pretext for rounding up Communist rebels are now surfacing as the real motivation for the government and not the genuine pursuit for lasting peace.
Perhaps, the current government can learn something from dogs and their sensitivity to social cues from people that enables them to fit with human society. Humans often fail to realize the unusual skills of dogs in communicating with their masters. But it’s not just their skills but their sense of loyalty which counts most. That is why dogs are our most trusted friends. Dogs know how to build and foster trust, which seems sorely lacking among humans. If only the military and the government could treat dogs in a better light.

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