IBON Features– The Duterte administration’s reported withdrawal from the scheduled fifth round of peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) risks missing a golden opportunity for meaningful economic reforms benefiting tens of millions of Filipinos. The peace talks have seen slow but steady progress to disrupt the status quo and overhaul the inequitable social order. An abrupt end to this would be welcomed only by foreign and domestic elites who stand to lose their privileged positions of wealth and power.
The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), represented by the Duterte administration, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are negotiating a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) during their on-going peace talks. The GRP and NDFP both assert the Filipino people as their constituency so the people’s understanding of and support for these reforms is crucial. #CASERGoals is IBON’s effort to encourage greater public awareness and deeper discussion on these.
Both parties agree that the CASER should address the root causes of the five-decade-long armed conflict between them in the country. It has been described as the “heart and soul” and “meat” of the peace negotiations. The CASER was to be among the top agenda in the fifth round of formal talks scheduled to be held in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands on May 27 to June 1, 2017.
The GRP and NDFP have already basically agreed on the important Preamble and Declaration of Principles of the CASER. The negotiating panels can already finalize these after resolving some minor issues. The initial concurrences on key principles and provisions are an encouraging starting point. They set the framework for the substantive policy portions of the agreement.
The Preamble states the rationale for the CASER. It correctly articulates what fuels the armed conflict: “Poverty, misguided development paradigms and strategies, social inequity and injustice, landlessness, bad environmental decisions, disempowerment, and marginalization of peoples have historically impeded the social and economic development of the Philippines and have engendered armed conflict and social unrest.”
It is clear that the CASER should address the interests of particular sectors — workers, peasants, women, children, national and ethnic minorities (indigenous peoples), the Bangsamoro (Moro people), and all other disadvantaged sectors, including national entrepreneurs. It upholds The Hague Joint Declaration — and the adherence to mutually acceptable principles of national sovereignty, democracy and social justice — and the commitment to carry out social and economic reforms.
Both sides have likewise largely agreed on the Declaration of Principles which establishes the framework and objectives of the agreement. They agree on the principles of national sovereignty, democracy and social justice as the negotiating framework.
The parties stress that the CASER should “solve the fundamental problems of exploitation, underdevelopment and widespread poverty in order to establish the basis for a just and lasting peace”. They agree “to forge the unity of the Filipino people in order to eliminate the primary obstacles to economic self-reliance, national independence and social emancipation”.
The section also expresses the determination to “pursue a policy and program of industrialization and agricultural development aimed at creating the basic conditions for a comprehensive, well-balanced and nationally self-reliant economic development”.
Acknowledging many policy barriers to development, the parties also resolve “to review and, as necessary, reverse all economic policies, programs, laws, agreements and treaties that have negated the objective of social and economic development and adversely affected the lives of the Filipino people”. There are also provisions against corruption, monopolies and environmental destruction.
The parties even agree on democratic measures and “the need to harness the full potential of the people particularly the workers, peasants and other basic sectors, and their organizations by respecting, upholding, and promoting their right to effective participation at all levels of social, political and economic decision making”.
There is also general concurrence in identifying the areas where the CASER will seek to achieve outcomes. The NDFP’s is proposing further elaboration on these outcomes but this is still up for discussion.
These areas include: rural equality and development, food self-sufficiency and security; sovereign, self-reliant, and industrialized economy; protected and rehabilitated environment, just compensation for affected communities, and sustainable development: promotion of people’s social, economic and cultural rights, including of indigenous peoples; living incomes for all; affordable, accessible and quality social or public services and facilities; sovereign foreign economic policies and trade relations supporting national industrialization and rural development; and monetary and fiscal policies for national development.
The rest of the CASER span the main areas of policy reforms covering various aspects of developing the national economy, upholding people’s rights, and asserting economic sovereignty. Discussions have started on agrarian reform and rural development and, to a lesser degree, on national industrialization.
The most notable point of agreement so far is on the need for free land distribution which is among the most important elements for achieving social justice in the countryside. Although a long-standing policy of the NDFP this is a major policy shift for the GRP and a fitting response to demands by the country’s peasant movement.
There is also already agreement on having a distinct section on “national industrialization”. Both drafts appear to acknowledge the need for a comprehensive and integrated industrialization program. The drafts also concur on breaking the dominance of local and foreign monopolies and elites. They both see a role for the public sector to provide infrastructure, utilities and essential social services although differ on how this will be done.
The NDFP draft is however clear on the need to reverse neoliberalism and develop the national economy for the benefit of the people.
These and other major policy areas however still need to be taken up. They include the most important measures for redistributing assets and income, government support for Filipino farms and enterprises, asserting independent foreign economic policy, providing social services and utilities especially for the country’s poor majority, and ensuring democracy in the economy.
The GRP draft has 174 provisions and the NDFP draft has 382. While there is already appreciable overlap with perhaps around 70% of the NDFP provisions also covered in the GRP draft, the remaining 30% need much greater discussion and resolution.
Even if the drafts share some principles and provisions, many details still need further clarification and honing. Negotiations however start best with what parties can already agree on and build from there. Giving too much weight to differences would only stymie progress in the talks.
The stalling of negotiations on social and economic reforms which are still at their early stages gives reason to be concerned. The CASER talks are an important test of the Duterte administration’s reformist credentials. And more than this, a CASER that addresses the roots of armed conflict in the country would be truly beneficial for the Filipino people who have long desired a just and lasting peace. They deserve no less.–IBON Features