International Alert and the Royal Norwegian Embassy organised a forum in Manila on 14 January to highlight lessons from the ongoing Colombian peace process for the stalled peace talks in the Philippines.
The forum’s main speaker, Norwegian Special Envoy to the Peace Process in Colombia, Ambassador Dag Nylander (pictured above), observed that: “The Colombian process … is very relevant to the Philippines, as both countries share similarities in the roadmap to peace.”
Nylander was joined at the forum by Elisabeth Slåttum, the Norwegian Special Envoy to the Government of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Peace Process, as well as Stephen A. Antig, Executive Director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc., Lt. Gen. Aurelio B. Baladad, the former commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Randy Felix P. Malayao, an NDFP consultant.
Also in attendance were members of the NDFP, which negotiates on behalf of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army, and the government itself. In addition, there were over 100 representatives of peace process bodies, embassies, companies, academic institutions, civil society groups, peace and religious advocacy groups, international non-government organisations, and the media.
International Alert and the Royal Norwegian Embassy sought to harness lessons from the peace process between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejercito del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army, FARC-EP) to hopefully restart the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDFP.
International Alert, on its own, has been campaigning for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the NDFP but, noting that a new government will be in place by the middle of 2016, has called for a ceasefire between the two parties until after the 9 May elections, and for the presidential hopefuls to make the resumption of negotiations a priority.
During the event, Nylander cited numerous reasons for the breakthroughs in the Colombian peace process, including: political will by leaders of the government and FARC-EP; participation of civil society and women's and business groups in the talks; inclusion of the military and police in the government panel and of military commanders in the FARC-EP panel; and international support from other countries, such as the United States.
He emphasised the importance of communication in galvanising public support: “The parties do joint press releases relatively frequently and, most importantly, when they have agreed on a specific issue, but they have also insisted on maintaining their right to talk selectively and with a tailored message to their own constituencies.”
“There is tension between what you want to convey as a joint project from the peace table and what you sometimes need to convey to your bases or constituency,” Nylander explained. “It is only when parties understand the need to convey this joint project to an often suspicious public that they will succeed not only in negotiating an agreement, but also in ensuring the support of the people to enable them to implement it.”
Antig and Baladad said that in order for the government and NDFP to replicate the steps taken in Colombia, they first need to address one critical thing – the lack of mutual trust. Similarly, Malayao stressed that the NDFP is always ready to sit down with the government, but prior agreements must be respected.
Peace talks first began in the Philippines in 1986, after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos. The talks resulted in several agreements, but ultimately always broke down – most recently in 2013 under the Aquino government. Yet, in Colombia there were three failed peace talks before the success of the most recent negotiations, which began in 2012 and are expected to result in a final peace agreement later this year.
While there has been little progress in the peace talks in the Philippines, Slåttum has remained optimistic: “A peace process is more of a marathon than a sprint ... and we remain very hopeful that sooner rather than later, we will achieve progress in the talks between the government and the NDFP.”