Reds demand free land distribution
DAVAO CITY—Free land distribution and rural industrialization as main vehicles to deal with widespread poverty are proposed in a draft agreement on social and economic reforms prepared by communist rebels.
Government and communist rebel negotiators are to discuss the draft agreement at the resumption of peace talks—scheduled to start on April 2 and end on April 6 in a hotel in Noordwijk in The Netherlands—aimed at ending the almost five-decade communist insurgency.
The opening ceremony of the fourth round of talks should have started on Sunday morning (The Netherlands time) but was delayed by several unresolved issues.
President Duterte on Sunday called the government negotiators—Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Labor Secretary and peace panel chair Silvestre Bello III and peace panel member Angela Librado-Trinidad—before the start of the talks.
Sources said that both panels would meet before lunch to set the agenda and schedule for this round of talks. If the panels agreed on the schedule and outline of the agenda, the opening ceremony would proceed in the afternoon.
In its version of the proposed Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser), the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said “distribution of land to the tillers for free” was a key component of an effective agrarian reform program that would dismantle what the rebels called land monopoly, or the concentration of huge tracts of land in the hands of a few owners.
Under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and its extension, beneficiaries can pay for the land awarded to them for 30 years at 6 percent yearly interest. Government records showed that 8.25 million hectares had been distributed to 5.43 million beneficiaries as of 2014.
In its draft Caser, the NDFP, the political arm of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also proposed a rural industrialization program to spur development in areas outside urban centers.
Rural industrialization, the NDFP Caser said, would require “provision of more farm technicians, agricultural credit to tillers, postharvest facilities, marketing agencies, irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads.”
Ban on open-pit mines
The NDFP also sought to enforce stringent rules on environmental protection that would include a ban on open pit mines, reclamation projects, logging for export and monocrop (single crop) plantations.
It also seeks to outlaw ecologically destructive business practices and the use of manufacturing processes and technologies that produce toxic wastes.
The NDFP also wants foreign or local corporations to have no control over plant, animal and other biological resources through patents.
“No other document has authoritatively articulated concrete solutions to the long-standing economic, social and ecological crises in the Philippines,” said the environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, commenting on the proposed NDFP Caser.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, a member of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives, said the peasant sector and local government units should rally behind the NDFP draft Caser “as it sincerely pushes for the welfare of poor peasants in the country, as well as genuine development in the countryside.”
Roots of conflict
Casilao said he believed the NDFP document would lead to fundamental reforms in the country and deal with the roots of the armed conflict involving the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the CPP.
“A majority of the NPA (members) are farmers who were victimized by displacement, feudal and semifeudal forms of exploitation, driven to bear arms to fight oppression and exploitation,” Casilao said.
Dureza, presidential peace adviser, would not comment on the contents of the NDFP Caser proposal but said there was no magic formula to achieve peace except for everyone to take part.
“There can be no peace without development,” Dureza said. “There can be no sustainable development without peace,” he added.
Besides Caser, the two parties will also discuss details of the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms, including the campaign promise of Mr. Duterte for a shift to a federal system.
This round of talks is the first under the Duterte administration in which no ceasefire is in place following the withdrawal of the indefinite unilateral ceasefire declarations earlier this year.
After the withdrawal of the ceasefire declarations, there have been clashes between government troops and the rebels, leaving many combatants and civilians either dead or wounded.
To deal with the issues and jump-start the talks, both parties met in Utrecht last month for a back-channel meeting. The panels agreed to proceed with the fourth round of talks and to reinstate the unilateral ceasefire to pave the way for a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
The government decided not to reinstate its ceasefire, which prompted the NPA to do the same. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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