Government, communist rebels to tackle economic, social reforms

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(File photo) NDFP consultants hold a forum in Quezon City on September 23.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) Both peace panels of the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) are bracing for a more challenging round of peace talks from Oct. 6 to 10 in Oslo, Norway.

This second round of talks will focus on socio-economic reforms, such as genuine land reform and agricultural development.

"Batid ng NDFP na ang mga susunod na usapin ay mas mahirap, mas inaasahan magkakaroon na ng mas gitgitan, mas mahirap na kumbinsihan, paliwanagan," said NDFP consultant Benito Tiamzon in a forum on Friday.

[Translation: The NDFP knows that the next round of talks will be more difficult. We expect more friction, as both groups may have a harder time explaining things and convincing each other.]

"Madalas gusto nilang unahin yung usapin ng ceasefire. Hindi pumapayag ang NDF. Ang ano ng NDF, kailangan unahin yung socio-economic reforms," he added. 

[Translation: They constantly want to discuss a ceasefire first. The NDF does not agree. The NDF wants to discuss socio-economic reforms first.]

Related: Philippine government, communist rebels sign ceasefire deal

Crucial agenda

The Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) has emerged as the most crucial of the four main agenda in the talks. It was drafted in 1998 and it essentially enumerates the issues at the roots of the communist movement's 47-year-long armed struggle.

CASER covers five main provisions:

  • Expanded land reform
  • National industrialization
  • Environmental protection
  • Better social services
  • Independent foreign policy

National industrialization is the most contentious, as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) wants certain industries to be largely owned by Filipinos with foreign companies only as minor players. These include:

  • Oil
  • Steel
  • Heavy-machinery
  • Cement
  • Electric
  • Water
  • Electronic
  • Machine-making
  • Chemical
  • Wood processing
  • Plastic
  • Construction
  • Consumer goods
  • Food and Beverage
  • Computer
  • Clothing and textile
  • Paper

Executive Order No. 184 of 2015 currently sets limits on foreign ownership in dozens of sectors. For example, foreign companies can only have up to 40 percent ownership of private lands or public utilities, and 60 percent equity in investment houses regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Calls for self-reliance

The NDFP wants the country's resources to be produced and processed locally. This would mean that natural gas in Malampaya or minerals extracted from Antique should all be under the full disposal either by the government or Filipino firms.

The goal is to make the Philippine economy self-reliant.

"Marami pang oil at gas reserves sa West Philippine Sea. Bakit pinapabayaan natin ang Shell, Caltex, at Aramco kontrolin ang prodaskyon ng langis? At bakit pinapabayaan natin ang China makapasok sa ating territoryo?", NDFP consultant Ed Villegas pointed out in a separate forum on Friday.

[Translation: The West Philippine Sea still has much oil and gas reserves. Why do we allow Shell, Caltex, and Aramco control our oil production? Why do we allow China to enter our territory?]

"Bakit ang mga dayuhan ang nagko-control sa minahan natin, aber? Kailangan repeal din iyong Mining Act of 1995. Tanggalin na iyong mga Hapon, mga Amerikano, mga Australian (kompanya), na sinisira pa environment, kinukuha pa lupa ng mga Lumad," he added.

[Translation: Why are foreigners controlling our mines? We need to repeal the Mining Act of 1995. We need to remove the Japanese, American, and Australian companies who destroy our environment and take land from the Lumad.]

Under CASER, labor outsourcing would ideally be eradicated. This means there will be no more Filipinos working overseas or in call centers because the country will no longer rely on foreign or multinational companies for jobs.

"Iyong mga industrial goods ay dito natin ma-produce sa halip na bilhin natin sa ibang bayan at i-export natin sa ibang bayan iyong mga trabaho. Kinakailangan ma-reverse natin yung ganong sitwasyon na napakatagal nang namamarali sa ating bayan," remarked NDFP consultant Adel Silva.

[Translation: We need to produce industrial goods locally, instead of having to import them and importing our labor abroad. We need to reverse that situation, as it has long been denounced in our country.]

'We can stand on our own'

NDFP consultants said President Rodrigo Duterte's recent anti-West statements are in their favor since CASER also pushes for an independent foreign policy. The President may set aside the U.S. and the European Union in favor of building better ties with China and Russia.

The NDFP says it supports this move, as long as the Philippines keeps a safe distance from these countries.

Villegas explained CASER will not isolate the Philippines from the rest of the world: "So, sila nagpupush ng kunwari, we need each other, we are global village — kalokohan. Eh iyong North Korea nga eh, wala ngang natural resources, ina-isolate nila, pero nandyan pa eh. See?"

[Translation: It's as if they're pushing us and say that we need each other, and we are a global village that's crazy. If you look at North Korea - a country without natural resources - they are isolating it, but it still exists. See?"]

"We can stand on our own. Iyon lang, if we don't act too soon, mauubos na kayamanan natin, aber," he added.

[Translation: We can stand on our own. If we don't act too soon, we will lose our resources.]

But more than convincing the government panel to agree with their proposals, the NDFP will also have to get public support for its stand.

"Meron pa iyong [There are still] political and constitutional reforms agenda, where we will have to process this — (they are) political in the sense, through laws, and also through the constitution kung kinakailangan [if needed]," said NDFP consultant Alan Jazmines.

"We are explaining... iyong dinadala na struggle, and nakikita naman ng Filipino people it's not an absolute thing. Ano iyan, it's brought about by the conditions — pero kung may ibang conditions, and then hindi naman ganoon necessary, we can hold it."

[Translation: We are explaining the (movement's) struggle and Filipino people see it's not an absolute thing. It's brought about by the conditions — but if there are other conditions that are not necessary, we can hold it.]

CNN Philippines Correspondent Rex Remitio contributed to this report.