Monday, May 23, 2011

GPH-NDFP Peace Process, First Quarter of 2011, Vol.I: Preliminary Talks in Oslo, Norway and Three Arrests Worth Noting

Following the tet a tet in Hong Kong on December 2nd and 3rd, 2010, the two Panels agreed to hold Preliminary Talks from January 14th to the 21st in Oslo, Norway. Foremost on the NDFP's agenda was the re-implementation of JASIG, or the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees. JASIG was created on February 24th, 1995 and is designed to allow free movement and freedom from arrest and prosecution for all NDFP personnel directly involved with the Peace Process. Under former President Arroyo JASIG had been formally suspended on August 3rd, 2005 (though it then remained in effect for 30 days past that date) not long after the CPP/NPA/NDFP had officially withdrawn from negotiations owing to President Arroyo's successful lobbying of the United States to have the CPP/NPA added to America's list of terrorist organisations.

In other developments from Hong Kong, both sides re-affirmed Norway's role as the Facilitator to the Peace Process. Unlike the GPH-MILF Peace Process with Malaysia as Facilitator, Norway doesn't simply appoint a single individual but rather a Secretariat, though different terminology is used. In real terms, Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines, Tore Lundh, is Chairing that Facilitation Secretariat and so, for better or for worse, Ambassador Lundh gets tarred as the "Facilitator."

Having had a 6 year break between Formal Rounds both sides had to play formal catch up. In other words, in the interim both sides- especially the NDFP- were assesing and re-assesing all prior Agreements as to continued viability, currency and so on. However, jumping back into the Peace Process requires certain diplomatic protocols and formalities. One such formality is the decison to re-assess prior Agreements despite them having been constantly re-assesed during the long wait.

The NDFP, predictably, raised the issue of recent NPA arrestees whom they claim are NDFP Consultants to the Peace Process. According to JASIG Consultants will be issued identifying documents from the NDFP specifying their status as Consultants. These unspecified "documents" will then serve as Safe Conduct Passes allowing free and unmolested movement throughout the Philippines, as well as allowing travel into and out of the country. JASIG is ambiguous on the type of ID as well as not requiring any type of notification to the Government about who is serving as Consultants at any given time (or serving at all, though there were 2 additional Agreements on JASIG that are supposed to help rectify this problem), nor even the total number of members doing so. The NDFP then manipulates the Agreement by claiming that every high placed arrestee is protected under JASIG. On the other side of the coin, the AFP, or Armed Forces of the Philippines, absolutely ignores the Agreement except for the 4 actual members of the NDFP Peace Panel.

When the meeting in Hong Kong took place the NDFP claimed 15 arrestees were being held in violation of the Agreement.In particular 3 of those members:

1) Rafael Baylosis

2) Randall Echanis

3) Vicente Ladlad

were labelled as absolutely "vital" to the next phase of the Process, CASER (Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms). Ergo it was asked that their releases be expedited so as to allow them to participate by the opening of Formal Resumption, on February 15th, 2011. However, between the meeting's conclusion on December 3rd, 2010 and the opening of the Preliminary Talk on January 14th three more names were added to the overall list. At 3AM on New Years Day, January 1st, 2011 Edwin "Ka Julie" Brigano was arrested in Davao City on Mindanao.

Brigano, who also used the nom de guerre "Ka Patao" had availed himself to an offer made by that city's Vice Mayor, Rodrigo "Roddy" Duterte. A local warlord himself, Duterte sits with his daughter Sarah Duterte Carpio as Mayor since his term limit as Mayor expired in 2010. Duterte has led Davao City since the late 1980s after coming to a working agreement with local NPA leader Leonicio "Ka Parago" Pitao. At the time almost the entire city was controlled by the NPA but because of organisational wide internal purges its parallel city government was unable to exert proper control and the city was turning into a warzone as various state-sanctioned paramilitaries asserted themselves under the greatly weakened NPA. When Duterte rose to power it was only because Ka Parago had guaranteed him the vote in NPA-controlled barangays and districts. After winning that first election as Mayor in 1988 he entered into a more permanent arrangement with Ka Parago so as to end the bloodshed engulfing Davao City as the NPA and state sponsored paramilitaries took it to the street in a life and death struggle for supremacy.

Realising that the key to long lasting success is the fostering of what the Philippine Government likes to call, "Peace and Development" but what in reality can be very simply stated as "pesos." Duterte and Ka Parago agreed that the NPA would receive carte blanche to run its parallel government in three outlying city districts:

1) Toril

2) Paquibato

3) Marilog

and to a lesser extent Calinan and Baguio Districts as well. For this concession Ka Parago vowed that he would limit any NPA tactical operations to those three districts and moreover would relegate armed activities to security operations such as armed patrols and the like. Duterte also agreed to pay Ka Parago a healthy sum each month and to occasionally offer logistical and materiel support as well but that is a sordid tale for another time.

After the meeting in Hong Kong both sides announced a 16 day Ceasefire (covered in my NPA entry for the last quarter of 2010). Vice Mayor Duterte then went a step further and invited any and all NPA members who wished to, to come to Davao City and enjoy the holiday without fear of hassles from the AFP or PNP (Philippine National Police). In fact, Duterte even invited Ka Parago to an all expence paid holiday at the city's finest hotel, on the city's tab. As "grateful" as Ka Parago was he instead invited the Vice Mayor and his daughter, the Mayor, up to his camp in Paquibato District for a different take on the holiday. In fact father and daughter DID end up taking Ka Parago up on his offer, albeit very quietly and low key.

Meanwhile, an NPA leader from ComVal (Compostela Valley Province) decided to enjoy a safe and secure holiday in a nice warm bed. Coming out of the ComVal mountains Edwin Brigano made his way to his mother in law's home in Toril District's Barangay Bago Gallera. Much to his suprise, with 3 days left on the Ceasefire, he was pulled out of bed, hooded and hogtied. Adding to Brigano's discomfort was the fact that he had just taken a hiatus from his role within the organisation, as Secretary, or leader of Front 33, the Armando Dumandan Command in order to obtain much needed medical care for Hepatitis and a respritory illness he had acquired in the jungle.

Vice Mayor Duterte was beyond livid. He immediately began berating PNP Inspector Pedro V.Tango, Director of the Davao del Sur PPO (Police Provincial Office).The following week things heated up by several degrees as Duterte took to the airwaves on his weekly Sunday morning television show, "Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa" (From the Masses, to the Masses). In the best tradition of dictators the world over, men like Hugo Chavez, Manuel Noriega and Moamar Khadaffy (Ghadaffi), Duterte's "show" is a 3 hour long exercise in non-sensical and egotistical rhetoric. Personally, my favourite "episode" was when Duterte invited Chinese drug lords to his city to open methamphetamine labs so that he could lock their doors and set fire to the buildings with them inside it. Others might prefer the numerous times he has admitted orchestrating death squads that target 12 year old "criminals." Duterte is the quinessential Mindanowan politico.

On the Sunday in question Duterte actually said the following, speaking in Cebuano, the lingua franca amongst non-Muslims on Mindanao, "There are bright Generals, but this Tango is not using the grey matter between his ears. If you create a bigger problem, if you are incompetent and don't know what you are doing for the country then you must go!" It was a classic Duterte moment because the raid wasn't even conducted by PPO Davao del Sur. Inspector Tango had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was undertaken by the PNP's CIDG-11 (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Region XI) and SAF, the PNP Special Forces. Tango definitely earned my respect in how he handled himself following those comments. Mindanao is an island where one sees the most arrogant pissant tin soldier type of mentality (as typified by old Roddy). I mean, anyone who sits for a Newsweek (US based international news magazine) piece and brags about killing people extra-judicially is beyond a carticature of "macho" or "Alpha Male," and yet juxtaposed against Vice Mayor Duterte's unabashed arrogance was Inspector Tango, not meekly but magnanimously offering that even though he wasn't responsible,he holds no grudges against Davao City's benevolent dictator. Of course it is always possible that Tango is a even more of a real man and simply settles scores privately. In the end, Tango was set to retire on April 29th when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. Two weeks prior to that date Duterte sponsored a dinner feting the man, apparently having realised that he had been completely mistaken over the responsibility in the Brigano Case. After the meal Duterte told the media that Tango rated an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Tango offered that it was all water under the bridge, that he had never blamed Duterte.

And what of Edwin Brigano? He was nabbed on 2 separate warrants. The first from RTC (Regional Trial Court) #6 under Judge Patricio Balite in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur Province was for Double Frustrated Murder. The second, from RTC #3 under an unnamed jurist in Nabunturan, ComVal, was for Rebellion, the generic charge slapped on every Communist guerilla though for some unknown reason it is rarely utilised against any Muslim guerilla. I suppose that the Government MIGHT believe the phrase "Muslim Rebel" to be redundant. Brigano claims to have never having been to Agusan del Sur Province despite it being 4km from his boyhood home. In fact, prior to leading Front 33 he had led Front 2 whose AOR (Area of Responsibility) happens to include much of Agusan del Sur. On January 3rd, 2011 Brigano's attorney filed an urgent motion in RTC #3 in ComVal asking the court to compel CIDG-11 to produce Brigano in front of the court. The motion claimed that CIDG had no intention of allowing Brigano his day in the sun per his Constitutional Rights. More over, the motion claimed that CIDG personnel were subjecting Brigano to mental torture. The last allegation was sheer theatrics given the fact that anybody who wished to was allowed to vist with Brigano outside his cell.

In fact, two of his elder sisters visited him that same Wednesday. One of the women, only a year older than her 53 year old brother told how Brigano was asked to tend their elder brother's farm one day back in 1978. Left alone tending the crops and critters in Barangay Casoon in Comval's municipality of Monkayo, the 18 year old simply disappeared without a word to anyone. Despite leading an NPA element in another part of the province he never once tried to contact his grief stricken family. The woman's daughter had been watching the television news just the day before seeing Brigano doing the Perp Walk for the cameras. The girl, who had never met her uncle, excitedly told her mother that the arrestee looked just like an uncle she did know, Brigano's much younger brother. The family had believed Brigano dead all these years. They had mourned him, they had moved on with life. The matriarch of the family couldn't bear to visit her son, she was still in a state of shock. She was still in denial, all the more so because "Edwin Brigano" isn't his given name. It is a new identity assumed since joining the NPA.

To be continued...

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