Friday, April 28, 2006

Driving the CARHRIHL: Another "Trip" To Peace? (A Kasarinlan Essay)

Robert Francis Garcia
Secretary General
Peace Advocates for Truth, Justice and Healing
Manila, Philippines

The first problem I have with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL is its name. It is way too long; every time I try to write it I always end up missing an R or an H or mixing up the sequence. Is the confusing and overextended acronym, if I be allowed a stretch of the imagination, indicative of its very nature? The CARHRIHL, is the first substantive agreement in the ongoing peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process 2004). It is the first of four stages that has not really gone far. In short: we have a long, long way to go.

Let me state at the outset where I am coming from. I was a guerrilla of the NPA who promoted “war” during the prime of my youth: a former lion who hunted with pride, so to speak, but who now thinks that the way of the dove, while somewhat less romantic, covers more ground and is less bloody. I helped bring together a group called Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice (PATH). We at PATH are a motley crop of people who are trying to tease out a rather unpopular and peculiar issue: the series of operations carried out by the CPP-NPA-NDF supposed to ferret out suspected “infiltrators” within their ranks that resulted in unimaginable atrocities. We were the victims. Among us are former comrades who survived the torture, families who lost a member or two, and compatriots who believe that the thousands of comrades who fell in the wake of these anti-infiltration campaigns must find their due.

All of our members are involved in various other advocacies and campaigns, but find this particular one far harder and, as Hau (2004) describes it, “fraught.” Many of us are human-rights workers who never tire of hollering against the state’s abuses—work that is by no means easy, but pretty much cut and dried. It enjoys the luxury of certitude and political correctness. The issue of the communist purges, on the other hand, is much more complex and uncertain. It takes to task supposed “agents for social change,” ostensibly the “good guys.” Few advocates would thus touch it with a ten-foot pole. For one, we are hard-put to carry this issue of “nonstate-perpetrated” violation to a government audience, knowing full well that the latter has to equally answer for much.

At which table do we bring this matter then? The military’s dismal human-rights record blotches the screen, the laws of the land have not yet caught up with the phenomenon of “nonstate” violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and civil society is not exactly paying attention.

We thus automatically welcome developments that could offer some promise or possibility of an official, widely recognized probe. Could the CARHRIHL be the avenue we are looking for? Sadly, CARHRIHL gives little indication in that direction. The negotiating parties (the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF) have set up the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on April 14, 2004, purportedly to monitor each other’s compliance with the stated agreements on human rights and international humanitarian law. But it covers only cases that happened “on or after August 7, 1998,” the official date of the pact. That effectively leaves out the bloodiest and most far-reaching crimes that resulted from the anti-infiltration purges because they happened more than a decade back. To our chagrin, it does not retroact.

Take the case of Maximiano “Tata Mianong” Paner. He was one of the forty-six persons killed by the CPP-NPA during the purge operation in Southern Tagalog called Oplan Missing Link (OPML). That was in 1988, at which time Tata Mianong was sixty-two years old. His family was relatively well off, with small but thriving businesses while his entire family supported the national democratic revolution in various ways (like serving as makeshift hospital for wounded guerrillas). The Paner family’s economic health plummeted after Tata Mianong was made to disappear forever.

The CPP-NPA informed the Paner family in the mid-’90s that Tata Mianong was erroneously killed during the OPML. When the family asked for the remains, the Party refused, because of certain “considerations.” The family was indignant, but to which body should they bring their case? The JMC “covers only cases that happened on or after August 7, 1998.”

It may be argued that the JMC can still take up this case, like other similar cases of desaparecidos (the disappeared), because it constitutes “a continuing violation.” Tata Mianong’s right to life was violated in 1988. The revolutionary movement continues to violate international humanitarian law by depriving his family the right to recover his remains to this day. That could be a sliver of hope. Theoretically, they can file their complaint.

But what powers does the JMC actually wield? A University of the Philippines College of Law paper expresses that the “most disconcerting” feature of the agreement is “the failure of the CARHRIHL to vest the JMC with executory power” (dela Cruz and Sibugan 2005). Indeed, all the JMC can do is deliberate on a filed complaint, try to reach a consensus, and then throw it tothe “party concerned” for further investigation. What if the party concerned is not concerned? What if they are not particularly interested in investigating? Nothing in the agreement indicates that either party can be compelled. So now we are back to square one.

Indeed, till this day, not one of the cases filed with the JMC, whether against government or the CPP-NPA-NDF, has moved an inch beyond their respective filing cabinets. What force in the world would compel them to act?

We all have our own conceptions of peace. That is the trouble—its utter relativity. Some believe that peace is possible only with the removal of any challenge to authority. Others believe that peace can be achieved only after installing a Maoist state. Recently, I had my second viewing of the film The Killing Fields, and I cannot imagine that anyone in his or her proper state of mind would wish such a murderous, Orwellian State to replace the rotten one we have at the moment. Talk about proportions of evil.

Peace may be a problematic notion; but that is a good starting point as well. The state’s conception of peace is a simple bottom line: to quash the enemy and get on with its business without threat. To “preserve the status quo” as it were. That would have been fine as it is, except that we get stuck with what we have right now: variously described as elitist, oligarchic, patrimonial, and undemocratic; a retrogressively feudal, reactionary, fascistic, corrupt, self-perpetuating engine of oppression. I will have have to concede that they are not way off the mark. But the state is not a monolithic machine. A minuscule part of it sincerely believes in peace and has healthy notions of justice and democracy, while another, more powerful part continues to hammer down on its enemies.

Meanwhile, it is hard to swallow he idea that the CPP-NPA-NDF (a monolith) genuinely wants to get into a peaceful settlement with the government unless it abandons its fundamental strategy altogether: to seize state power via a protracted people’s war that covers all fronts, from tactical military offensives and diplomatic offensives to charm offensives.

Peace, in short, seems to be farthest from the minds of the opposing camps. Neither of them is agreeable as well. If it were a boxing match, it is not a Paquiao-Morales fight, but more like Navarrete-Tyson—you root for neither. Navarrete may be the underdog, but he is a convicted rapist. Tyson, well, he bites off the ear of his opponent when he is losing. In such a bout, you place your bets on the referee.

Which is why de la Cruz and Sibugan (2005) suggest that all this talk on human rights and humanitarian law should be disengaged “from the discourse of peace,” stating further that “if full benefit is to be derived from the CARHRIHL then it is imperative that it be viewed independent[ly] of the peace agenda.”

They have a point, at least at this point. If peace is nowhere within our grasp, then there is some sense in trying to make the war at least more “humane.” Should the parties in conflict decide to continue fighting, as they do now, then they should spare us noncombatants from the crossfire, treat their prisoners well, assist the aggrieved in finding justice, never practice torture, respect due process, and altogether pay attention to each and every individual right bulleted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and all those Protocols thereafter. After all, the Philippine government signed and ratified most of them; the CPP-NPA-NDF promised to the world they would abide by them, and both parties shook hands on August 7, 1998.

Not that it changed things one bit.

Some observers say that the CARHRIHL was merely used by the CPP-NPA-NDF to the hilt in their diplomatic offensive, with the end in view of achieving a “status of belligerency.” I think that observation has some merit. With CARHRIHL, the CPP-NPA-NDF somehow managed to be on equal footing with government: with equal number of representatives to the JMC, with coequal functions, and with a foreign government acting as mediator. They have maximized its propaganda potential as well, throwing statements left and right and piling up case after case after case in the name of CARHRIHL.

The CPP-NPA-NDF had it so good with CARHRIHL; that seems to be the situation. The question is: is that a good thing or a bad thing for the rest of us? This now becomes a question of perspective. If you believe in the Party’s cause, then tactics and instrumentalities that serve it would be a welcome thing for you, and vice versa.

Most of us, however, position ourselves somewhere in the broad middle, some a little to the left and some to the right. The left and right categories, however, had seen too many shifts through time that they have become almost moot. At present, military rebels are linking arms with sundry left factions, bringing together and mixing up their slogans and programs of government. But we can all at least agree to principles of human rights and international humanitarian law, for who would argue against the right to life and freedom from torture? When warring parties agree to respect these things, then there must be something to cheer for.

However, we have seen enough history to know that having an agreement does not guarantee compliance. The best it can do is to serve as a gauge by which practices can be measured. Now how do the parties to the agreement measure up so far?

The present government seems to have reinvented the concept of killing. The escalating body count of activists and journalists suggests that some people up there are trying to solve our population problem in the quickest possible way.

The CPP-NPA, meanwhile, has closed the book on the purge issue. They say it had already been resolved; the perpetrators had either escaped the Party or stayed and endured Party punishment. They say the families of the dead have been informed. Our extensive research at PATH points to the contrary—very few families have been informed of the death of their kin, much less of the circumstances behind the killing. On the matter of returning the remains, the Party remains dead silent.

It also maintains political executions as a matter of policy, the most recent and high profile victims of which were former Party leaders Romulo Kintanar and Arturo Tabara.

In short, we have an official “agreement” to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, with a body to “monitor” compliance, but no teeth to enforce it. All we have is their word, which, going by experience, does not amount to much.

But as we said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” for they have a lot of work to do. Beyond beauty pageant contestants praying for world peace, there are people among us who take the peace project to heart. There is, for example, Sulong (Push Forward) CARHRIHL: Karapatang Pantao tungo sa Kalinaw (Human Rights toward Peace). They have gone way past spelling the acronym correctly. They police the protagonists, treating the agreement not as a piece of paper signed for expediency but as a covenant. Try to ignore it and they can raise hell.

We at PATH count ourselves within the ambit of these incorrigible peace types. Most of our members witnessed and went through the horrors of war to ever want it continuing indefinitely. Wherever we could find a package tour toward it, we would readily sign up.

We accept the notion of peace as a journey, and know that perilous journeys entail tripping along the way. When we stumble, we pick ourselves up. When we slip and slide, we castigate the ones who deliberately throw banana peelings in our path. We tell them, with diplomacy and charm, that they are slowing us down. “If you are not traveling with us, then we do not want your fruit. So please, kindly take that banana and shove it.”

The trip is hard enough as it is; it would not hurt to travel with our tongue in our cheek. If we can still manage that, then there is hope yet indeed, so long as we do not bite our tongue the next time we slip again.

dela Cruz, Rosselynn Jaye, and Rachel Anne Sibugan. 2005. Breaking ground on bloody ground: A legal inquiry into the CARHRIHL between the GRP and the NDF. Unpublished study.
Hau, Caroline. 2004. The subject of the nation. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. 2004. Primer on the CARHRIHL and the JMC. Pasig City: Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

(This essay appears in the Perspective Section of Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 [2006]. Kasarinlan is an internationally refereed journal published twice a year by the Third World Studies Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines-Diliman that provides a forum for critical and interdisciplinary perspectives on the Philippines and the Third World with special reference to political economy.)

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