POSTSCRIPT / February 26, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Oslo peace talks good for GMA, Joma Sison

MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL: Keeping alive the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the rebel National Democratic Front is important to both President Arroyo and NDF chief consultant Jose Ma. Sison.

The talks, restarted early this month in Oslo, are in recess with prospects of resumption late March possibly in Beijing. A joint statement was issued Feb. 14 at the end of four days of discussion in the Norwegian capital.

The fresh discussions help President Arroyo, seeking a mandate in May, project her desire to end the decades-old insurgency. The dialogue also muddles the support that the NDF has announced for her major challenger, actor Fernando Poe Jr.

For Sison, the talks reinforce his efforts to stall his expulsion from the Netherlands from whose sanctuary he has been issuing remote-control policy directions to the New People’s Army leading the communist insurgency back home.

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TERRORIST TAG: The shaky peace talks were nearly derailed by conflicting interpretations of a passage in the joint statement on the possible lifting of the terrorist tag attached by the United States, among other powers, on Sison and the CPP/NPA.

This is the text that caused so much argument less than a week after the signing of the declaration:

“The GRP and the NDFP shall, jointly and separately, call upon the Government of the United States, the Council of the European Union and other concerned foreign states and governments, to support the efforts of the parties in resolving the outstanding issue of the “terrorist” listing of the CPP/NPA and the NDFP Chief Political Consultant in order to advance and promote the peace negotiations and address the root causes of the armed conflict.”

The two parties also agreed to form a joint committee to monitor implementation of their 1998 agreement on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.

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NO COMMITMENT?: The NDF, led by its chairman Luis Jalandoni, must have interpreted “to support the efforts… in resolving the outstanding issue of the ‘terrorist’ listing” to mean the Philippine government has committed itself to ask the US, Canada, Australia and the 15-nation EU to remove the terrorist tag.

Reacting to accusations of deception, the Philippine government clarified that it made no such commitment in the Oslo joint declaration. Reread the passage above and make your own conclusion.

In the middle of the exchange, the US said that the terrorist tag could be lifted only if the rebels renounced terrorism and signed the appropriate agreement with the Philippine government. To this observer, this means “never.”

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JOMA’S EXPULSION: The terrorist tag complicates Sison’s campaign to stay in the comfort and safety of the Netherlands.

The self-exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines is supposed to be expelled from the Netherlands after his application for asylum was rejected in 1997 by the Dutch government.

In fact, the Dutch government recently approved a plan to expel some 2,600 persons whose requests for asylum had been rejected. The case of Sison is high on the priority expulsion list.

Some parliamentarians called on the government to “uproot” terrorist organizations from the Netherlands, and expel them. Most of those on their list were Islamic groups, but they made special mention of Sison and the NDF.

They said that it was not enough for the government to simply cut off their funds, but that it also had to get rid of terrorist groups “whose continued presence constitute a danger to the Dutch state, and public safety.”

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INSIDE DOPE: We asked activist Carlo Butalid, who broke away from Sison and the NDF in 1993 and is now an NGO worker in Europe, to give us his insider’s view of the talks and related issues.

Some of the information we have cited and the following paragraphs were taken from his email, slightly edited:

The Philippine delegation did quite well. It achieved its objective of officially restarting the talks, without giving much. On the terrorist tag on Joma, all the government promised was to communicate with the EU towards settling the issue re his terrorist tag.

It did not say anything about asking the EU to revoke the terrorist tag. In fact, strictly speaking, it could very well interpret the passage (cited above) as settling the issue in favor of retaining the terrorist tag.

The Philippine government only calls on the US, EU and other governments to “support the efforts in resolving the outstanding issue…” It does not mention anything about how the issue should be resolved. The government promised what the Dutch call “baked air”!

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PRESSURE ON JOMA: So, Joma is in a bind. He desperately needs the legal cover of the peace talks. And if possible, he could try to use the talks to relieve him of the pressure due to his “terrorist” tag.

The NDF tried to force the GRP panel to promise to request the European Union to withdraw the terrorist tag from Joma.

It did not work — the government merely promised to take steps to resolve the issue — which means that they are not committed at all to taking off the terrorist tag.

Normally, the NDF would not settle for such promises in the air. But this time, with Dutch authorities breathing down its neck, the NDF had no choice but to agree.

So, now, Joma can defend himself by saying that he is involved in a delicate stage of the peace talks, and thus should not be expelled.

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EXPULSION HELD: Joma’s status is one of a rejected asylum seeker. That he is supposed to be expelled is clear from the decisions of the government and courts back in 1997.

The reason that he cannot be deported to the Philippines is a provision in the European Charter on Human Rights, which prohibits deporting persons to a country where he/she runs the danger of being put to death or tortured.

The recent reinstatement of the death penalty in the Philippines is quite helpful to Joma. He is now an illegal alien in the Netherlands, awaiting deportation.

(We asked about Jalandoni. Butalid said the former Filipino priest was granted political asylum in the early 1980s. After a number of years, he became a naturalized citizen of the Netherlands.)

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SUPPORT FOR FPJ: Still from Butalid: Joma has hinted not too discreetly that he wants FPJ to win. This means that the CPP-NDF-Bayan Muna, etc., would sort of support FPJ without doing so officially.

They want a replay of the 2001 elections, when they supported GMA and the People Power Coalition (PPC) in exchange for support for Bayan Muna (the PPC did not mind supporting Bayan Muna, since they were not running for party list seats anyway).

Unfortunately for Joma, FPJ and the Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) are not that willing to work with them this time around. The pro-Estrada forces that are supporting FPJ may still remember how the CPP-NDF-Bayan Muna used to support GMA against them.

The coming elections will be tense times for Joma and the CPP leaders. Joma is adamant that the NPA keep their level of violence much lower than the ‘violence of the ruling classes,” but Tiamson and others like him are bent on advertising NPA strength during this period.

Something may give in the process — in 1998, Joma and Tiamson were on the verge of splitting, on similar issues. Then, as now, Joma sent Fidel Agcaoili on a peace mission to keep tensions with Tiamson’s camp manageable.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 26, 2004)

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