MANILA, Philippines — The cancellation of the fifth round of formal talks between communist rebels and the government does not mean the scuttling of peace negotiations altogether, thus all bilateral agreements, including the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees, remain binding, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines said.
The JASIG is the agreement that accords negotiators, consultants and their staff
- free and unhindered passage in all areas in the Philippines, and in traveling to and from the Philippines in connection with the performance of their duties in the negotiations
- 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 NDFP peace negotiating panel issued the reminder amid concerns its Philippine-based consultants, most of who are out on bail, may be placed under surveillance, harassed or arrested on their return to the country.
“The GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines)-NDFP peace negotiations are ongoing despite the fact that the fifth round of formal talks did not take place as scheduled due to the decision of the GRP panel not to participate,” a statement from the rebel negotiating panel said. “All the bilateral agreements that lay down the framework, processes and conditions for the entire peace negotiations, including the JASIG, remain binding, operational and in effect.”
The government decision not to take part in the fifth round of talks was mainly prompted by the Communist Party of the Philippines’ order to the New People’s Army to intensify tactical offensives after President Rodrigo Duterte declared Mindanao under martial law over the fighting between the Maute group and government forces in Marawi.
Chief NDFP negotiator Fidel Agcaoili stressed they had “received assurances from (Labor) Secretary Silvestre Bello, head of the GRP (government) panel, that JASIG remains operative.”
“Because the peace negotiations are still on, the bilateral consultations between the working groups of the GRP and NDFP can continue to be held in the Philippines to prepare for the eventual resumption of the formal talks,” Agcaoili said.
“We deem it necessary to underscore the continuing effectivity of the JASIG in order to prevent any misreading or misinterpretation that would lead prosecutors to move for, and for the courts to cancel, the bail bonds of NDFP consultants still facing charges and for the police and military to arrest NDFP consultants who are set to return to the Philippines following the GRP’s cancellation of the fifth round of formal talks,” he said.
Despite the cancellation of the fifth round, NDFP panel members and consultants will be returning to the country to engage in “the work of the different bilateral teams of the RWCs-SER (Reciprocal Working Committees-Social and Economic Reforms) and of the RWGs-PCR (Reciprocal Working Group-Political and Constitutional Reforms).”
“The JASIG-protected NDFP consultants currently in The Netherlands flew out of the country in good faith and the GRP is duty-bound under JASIG and other pertinent agreements to ensure that they will not be harassed, surveilled, searched, arrested or detained after they set foot in the Philippines,” Agcaoili said.
In between earlier rounds of talks, the NDFP complained about the surveillance and harassment of its panel members and consultants. Among these incidents were the surveillance of Benito and Wilma Tiamzon on their return from negotiations abroad and a more recent instance after they visited President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang and farmers from Davao del Norte who were camping out at Mendiola.