GPH, MILF still looking for a new Malaysian facilitator

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 January) — The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF ) peace implementing panels are still “in the process of looking” for a new Malaysian facilitator, contrary to a report that someone has been named, government’s peace implementing panel chair Irene Santiago said.

“Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid is not the new Malaysian Facilitator. The GPH and MILF Implementing Panels are still in the process of looking for the new Third Party Facilitator,” Santiago said in a January 14 letter e-mailed to MindaNews by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

MILF peace implementing chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews Sunday that they are still waiting for the name of the new facilitator. He said the MILF is “closely working with the GPH implementing panel to clarify the issue around the third party facilitator.”

Irene Santiago, chair of the government’s peace implementing panel shows the two-page joint statement she signed with MILF’s peace implementing panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on August 14, 2016 after the launch of the implementation phase of the GPH-MILF peace process in Kuala Lumpur. MindaNews file photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

A VERA Files report that MindaNews published on January 13 said the Philippines and Malaysia had agreed on a new facilitator, Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid,  who is supposed to be the third Malaysian to act as facilitator in the GPH-MILF peace process, replacing Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mohamed who passed away on Sept. 2, 2016.

“It is true that I as the chair of the GPH Implementing Panel and MILF Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal reaffirmed the participation of Malaysia as Third Party Facilitator in a letter dated 4 January 2017 addressed to the Director of the Malaysian Secretariat of the GPH-MILF Peace Process,” Santiago said.

But Santiago added that the VERA Files report left out “a crucial statement in the second paragraph of such letter reiterating that upon consultations with the Parties’ principals, the request for a new Facilitator supersedes the Parties’ prior acknowledgment of Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid as Third Party Facilitator.”

The joint letter of Santiago and Iqbal on January 4 said they “welcome a new nominee” for the role of facilitator.

According to VERA Files, Malaysia officially informed Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza of the appointment of Zakaria as the new GPH-MILF Peace Process facilitator in a letter dated Oct. 18, 2016.

Barely a month later, however, President Rodrigo Duterte and Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to do away with the post of facilitator.

Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mohamed, Malaysian facilitator in the GPH-MILF Peace Process with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza on August 14, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur. Tengku passed away on September 2, 2016. MindaNews file photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews last month that they wee “surprised” to read reports that Duterte and Najib had agreed during the former’s visit to Malaysia in November that there would be no more facilitator since the peace process is on its implementing phase.

Murad said the facilitator “is still very important even in the implementing phase.”

“There are so many of the infrastructure of the peace process which is tied up to the facilitator – the ICG (International Contact Group), the IMT (International Monitoring Team)  – all these are tied up with the facilitator so … we tried to inquire from Malaysia what really transpired and then they told us that it was taken up during the one on one meeting with the President (Duterte) so after assessing the situation, we decided to write a letter to the President and to the Prime Minister appealing to both that the facilitator shall not be  terminated because we explained the relevance of the facilitator in the implementing process.”

The GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) provides under Section 12 of  Article VII that the facilitator stays until the exit agreement is signed.

“At the end of the transition period, the GPH and MILF Peace Negotiating Panels, together with the Malaysian Facilitator and the Third Party Monitoring Team, shall convene a meeting to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition.” It also provides that an exit document “officially terminating the peace negotiation may be crafted and signed by both Parties if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”

Murad said the President agreed to reinstate the facilitator role during a meeting in early December in Davao City, in the presence of Dureza.

In that meeting, Murad said it was agreed that the implementing panels “will jointly request Malaysia for the appointment of a new facilitator.”

Santiago and Iqbal jointly wrote the Malaysian Secretariat on January 4, 2017 to request for a new facilitator.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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