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‘Unequal treaties’ pose big problem for negotiators

The government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hope to conclude their peace talks as quickly as possible and implement it “while he (President Duterte) is still the president of the country,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said last Friday at a forum with European ambassadors.

We had been hoping that peace with the CPP, its military arm New People’s Army (NPA), and its political arm National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was only months away, with the seeming closeness and conviviality seen in Malacañang’s inviting former CPP detainees to dinner and the opening of peace talks in Oslo, Norway, within weeks of the new start of the new administration.

Now it seems no agreement can be expected any time soon. The hope is that agreement will come while Duterte is President of the country, in other words within the next six years.

There are indeed some very critical issues that separate the two sides. At a forum in Baguio City, Luis Jalandoni, senior adviser to the NDFP negotiating panel, said that at the next peace talks to be held on January 18-25 in Rome, Italy, the NDFP will demand the abrogation of what it called unequal treaties with the United States, like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

There are other issues on tap in the coming talks, discussions on economic reforms, recognition of ancestral domains, land reform, and national industrialization.

Even before these basic issues are taken up, the two parties will have to agree on terms of a bilateral ceasefire and the NDFP has accused the Philippine military of violating the ceasefires declared separately by the two sides.

But it is the demand for abrogation of PH-US ties now in force, ties with a history that goes back over a hundred years to the coming of US military power to these islands that poses the biggest roadblock to peace with the CPP-NPA-NDFP group. President Duterte has expressed some critical opinions against the US, but he has also declared he intends to respect all treaties the Philippines has signed with all nations.

In the face of the NDFP adviser’s statement that they will demand the abrogation of existing treaties with the US, we see a much longer road ahead of us. But we must remain hopeful that in the coming months and years, our negotiators may yet find a formula that they can agree on, so that a problem that has long defied solution for decades will finally be solved.