For Beth, it was a long, long journey to Oslo, literally and figuratively. The road to peace, she says however, is even longer, more difficult to traverse and full of potholes.

By D. L. Mondelo
Bulatlat Correspondent [1]
5 March 2011

As a mixture of excitement and tension filled the air at the opening of the resumption of formal peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Oslo, Norway last February 15, Elizabeth Beth Principe seemed relaxed and confident.

Earlier during the first day, there were already contentious issues for both the GPH and the NDFP that almost threatened the opening of the resumption of the formal peace talks, and Beth would only listen as her peace panel delegation discussed their next move. Everyone in the NDFP secretariat room was hesitant to don his and her barong tagalog and formal wear until the issues were satisfactorily resolved and attend the opening ceremonies.

Next scene would see Beth rushing to take her seat, alongside the NDFP peace panel members, as one of their peace consultants. She wore a simple white Filipiniana top and black pants. And as the last words were uttered after the press conference that followed the formal opening of the resumption, Beth remained composed and regal, without any hint of her ordeal before she reached Oslo. This was her first public appearance as an NDFP peace consultant after her release from detention in 2009.

For Beth, it was a long, long journey to Oslo, literally and figuratively. The road to peace, she says however, is even longer, more difficult to traverse and full of potholes.

As she was taking her flight to Amsterdam en route to Oslo last Feb. 12, tension gripped her companions as she was held at the immigration at the Ninoy Aquino International airport. Her name was still on the hold order list of the Bureau of Immigration. She was held for more than thirty minutes at the immigration office, and was able to catch her flight only after no less than DOJ secretary Leila De Lima personally ordered the immigration bureau to take her name off that list because she was participating in the talks.

Beth was arrested in November 2007 as she was seeking medical treatment in a clinic in Quezon City. She was charged with murder, multiple murder, robbery in band, non-bailable offenses, but was released in July 2009 because the judge who handled her case found no probable cause to continue to prosecute her.

The GPH, Beth says, arrests and detains NDFP peace consultants on fabricated and non-bailable charges and shows no respect for the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) that is supposed to ensure the safety and free movement of both peace panels, their consultants and staff. Alan Jazmines, another NDFP peace consultant, was arrested a day before the resumption of the formal talks in Oslo.

Despite these hurdles that NDFP peace consultants like her have to struggle with, Beth registers her guarded optimism for the peace talks.

You always have to see how the GPH would implement the agreements arrived at in these talks. It is important that the masses are informed and educated on what are being arrived at in these talks,she said.

She cited the importance not only of finalizing the comprehensive agreement on socio-economic reforms (CASER), but more importantly, in implementing genuine land reform and economic policies that would spur national industrialization for the whole country.

Like her co-NDFP peace panel members and consultants, she is firm in the position that the satisfactory implementation of the CASER would be crucial before moving forward to finalizing the agreement on political and constitutional reforms.

Beth was tasked along with Prof. Jose Maria Sison and their NDFP staff and other consultants and lawyers, to form the NDFP group to sit with their GPH counterpart led by lawyer Pablito Sanidad, to discuss the preliminaries of forming the reciprocal working committee on political and constitutional reforms (RWC-PCR).

On the NDFP peace panel members, consultants and staff, Beth observes that they are very serious about their desire for national industrialization, land reform and the release of detained NDFP consultants, and all political prisoners.

Kahit na antok at pagod na, tuloy pa rin ang trabaho. They are willing to enter into compromises, but on just grounds, firm on principles while upholding the interests of the people,she emphasizes.

She says that both the GPH and NDFP panels hold on to what they believe are right but both are open to discussions.

She said this Oslo talks taught her a lot. I am used to dealing only with comrades and the masses, not with the government across the negotiating table. With the talks, you learn to be more cautious, to deepen your understanding, to qualify the repercussions of issues, and guard your statements and see where all these would lead to, she asserts.

You need to be keen and sharp across the negotiating table, she further adds.

As mother to lawyer Francis Anton Principe, one of the NDFP peace panel legal consultants in the Oslo talks, Beth says she feels doubly happy and proud to be with her son in this historic talks.

Anton Principe, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines College of Law, had represented his mother as part of her legal team during her arrest and prosecution. The Oslo talks became an occasion for bonding for mother and son dining together, talking family matters, and discussing issues on the table during the talks.

On Professor Sison, Beth says he remains focused on important issues and points in the talks, despite getting sick because of the very cold winter weather in Oslo. Joma, she says, gives very sharp analyses on many issues and points of contention during the talks. When he shares his thoughts, Joma helps unclog stumbling blocks and encourages the GPH to become open to the NDFP positions.

Para na ring ED ang mga arguments at kwento na ibinabahagi ni Ka Joma. Marami kang matututunan. Masarap makinig sa kanya,she adds. Beth shares that during discussions on heated issues among the members of the NDFP panel, the whole secretariat room of the NDFP would fall silent as Ka Joma’s voice resonates with the eloquence of his arguments.

On Louie Jalandoni, Beth says LJ is a diplomat par excellence. He defers to, solicits and listens to the opinions of others. He handles the discussions very well, updates the whole NDFP delegation on developments in the talks, and helps unify the whole delegation on all issues,she says.

On the GPH peace panel, Beth says they are generally friendly. Pero walang personalan,she says, probably referring to the occasional raising of voices during the panel exchanges.

On the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG), which is hosting the peace talks, Beth observes that it fulfills a role that ensures everything is conducive to the talks.

Hindi araw araw na maraming pagkain tulad dito sa talks, malambot ang tinutulugan, at walang lamok,Beth says. During one of the dinners at the hotel where the talks were being held, Beth was so overwhelmed by the amount of food that she thought of saving some to bring to comrades and the masses in the community where she is staying back home.

As both panels and Beth would all agree, the road to peace is fraught with many hurdles and would need lots of political will for the talks to move ahead, address the root causes of the armed conflict, end the hostilities and eventually achieve genuine and lasting peace.

Hopeful to participate in the next round of peace talks to be able to contribute to the initial formation of the working committee on political and constitutional reforms, Beth Principe remains optimistic that issues would be resolved on just grounds so long as the people’s genuine interests are upheld.

(D.L. Mondelo is a correspondent of Bulatlat.Com in Europe. He is based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and is communications officer of Migrante Europe).