Of the three agreements signed by the two panels during the exploratory talks, the JASIG was the toughest to negotiate because of the contentious issues of political authority and belligerency. The NDFP, claiming equal status with the GRP in the peace negotiations, asserted that it was a nationwide alliance of patriotic and progressive forces in control of considerable portions of the Philippine population and territory, carrying out a national democratic revolution with political organs and a well-disciplined People's Army. It argued that the armed conflict between the GRP and the NDFP was a civil war between the belligerent forces and not a mere insurgency. The GRP, on the other hand, referred to the NDFP as an insurgent force criminally liable for rebellion under the Revised Penal Code. The GRP upheld its sovereignty over the whole country, denying NDFP control or influence over any portion of the Philippine territory.
Thus, the negotiations on JASIG were shot through with difficulties. The initial peace talks at De Bilt, scheduled for 10-14 October 1994, were a big letdown. They collapsed on the first day because the NDFP asserted full equality with the GRP. Through its proposal to grant safety and immunity guarantees to the members and personnel of the GRP Peace Panel, the NDFP had asked the GRP to accept the premise of two sovereignties, two constitutions, two systems of law and two armies existing in Philippine territory. The NDFP demanded nothing less than the authority to issue GRP negotiators and personnel safe conduct passes which would require the GRP to accept the NDFP's sovereignty over Philippine territory. The GRP Panel did not accept this untenable position and contended that the constitution recognises only one sovereign, the Filipino people, united under the banner of the Republic. It further pointed out that the NDFP sought to obtain through the negotiating table what it could not achieve through force of arms, seeking only an agreement confirming its status of belligerency, poisoning the peace talks by not approaching them as a forum for compromise. In his final statement, however, Chairman of the GRP Peace Panel Ambassador Howard Dee vowed, "to keep all channels open for the resumption of talks in the future" and invited the NDFP, "to join the people ... in the pursuit of social reform which should usher in an era of social justice, of equality, human dignity, plurality and rule of law".
Amid all the difficulties in the negotiation of the JASIG, the GRP persisted in pursuing the peace talks because it was morally right to do so and because President Ramos wisely wanted a peaceful climate that would be attractive to investors, one of the main tracks of his administration's centrepiece programme, 'Philippines 2000'.
Indeed, the two panels kept open all the channels of communication and negotiated JASIG by phone and fax to and from the Netherlands and by internal consultations over the next three and a half months. After the exchange of seventeen drafts and counter-drafts with corresponding corrections and revisions – and much creative language engineering to protect GRP sovereignty and territorial integrity while respecting NDF's organisational dignity – agreement on the final JASIG draft was reached on 24 February 1995 at Nieuwegein. The mutual acceptability of the JASIG was made possible by employing neutral language that made no explicit reference either to the GRP as the guarantor of safety and immunity or to the NDFP as the beneficiary of guarantees, and no specific reference as to which party would avail of the safety and immunity guarantees or which party would recognise the documents of identification as safe conduct passes. Some of these features are demonstrated in the following excerpts:
- Each party has the inherent right to issue documents of identification to its negotiators, consultants, staffers, security and other personnel and such documents shall be duly recognised as safe conduct passes as provided in this Joint Agreement (I, para. 2);
- The GRP and the NDFP shall agree through their respective panel chairmen on the number of documents of identification each party will issue based on the different categories of functions which the parties will designate from time to time (I, para. 3);
- In addition to or in lieu of the aforesaid documents of identification, the party concerned may request the other to issue safe conduct passes to the holders of such documents of identification or to other persons involved in the peace negotiation as provided in this Joint Agreement (I, para. 3).
Such avoidance of the problem of competing claims of sovereignty has certainly contributed to the protraction of the peace negotiations. It has not, however, scuttled the process. The process has continued and has even resulted in one substantive agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in 1998. The use of neutral language can continue until the discussion on the third substantive agendum, Political and Constitutional Reforms, when the period of 'dribbling the ball' or 'suspension of disbelief' has to stop and the issue of political authority be resolved once and for all.