Esperon out, Razon in as new Peace Adviser; Dureza is new chief counsel

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza will be the new Chief of the Presidential Legal Counsel while his post will be taken over by outgoing PMS chief, Serge Remonde.

Esperon, who retired as Armed Forces Chief of Staff in June and Razon, who retired as PNP chief, are mistah (classmates) at the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1974.

After his retirement in September last year, Pres. Arroyo named Razon as deputy director-general of the National Security Council (NSC).

Esperon and Razon were unavailable for comment.

Only three days earlier, Esperon urged local peace partners to “intensify the government’s new paradigm on the peace process,” focusing on authentic community dialogues, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).

“I strongly suggest that the new paradigm on the peace process be our main concentration in crafting the 2009 Conflict Prevention and Peace Building work plan along with the learning that will surface during the dialogue,” Esperon reiterated his call following the conclusion of the two-day dialogue on conflict Prevention and Peace Building Programme.

The change in peace adviser came just a day after Ms Arroyo told the diplomatic corps during the traditional Vin D’ Honneur at Malacanang’s Rizal Hall that the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) “would probably bring the decades-long armed conflict to an end this year.”

The President said that the new panel, headed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, is “poised and ready to embark for substantive discussions, including ceasefire-related issues, the International Monitoring Team, and accelerated development for Mindanao.”

She called on members of the International Monitoring Team composed of Malaysia, Libya, Brunei, and Japan; the Organization of  the Islamic Conference (OIC), European nations, and the United States “to continue their support to advance peace and progress in Southern Philippines.”

Reacting to the changes, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews that “always changing the peace team is one factor that hinders peace talks from prospering.”

“New faces, new to the job, no continuity,” he said.

Iqbal acknowledged that Esperon, a retired general and Armed Forces Chief of Staff, “enjoys good credibility with the MILF.” He declined to comment on Razon, claiming  they know little about him.

The government peace panel was dissolved September 3 last year after the formal signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was aborted. Three months later, on December 2,  Malacanang named Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis as new peace panel chair but his four members were named three weeks later, just before Christmas day.

Fatmawatti Salapuddin of the Sulu-based Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women,  said, ”with Razon, the focus will be peace and order, not peace process. OPAPP will even be more pacifist.”

Gus Miclat, executive director of the Davao City-based  Initiatives for International Dialogue, said,  “I am trying to understand the logic (of changing the peace adviser), if any.”

Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples' Caucus (MPC),  said a peace agreement under the Arroyo administration is an illusion.

She said the advocacy work “should now focus on ensuring that the Ancestral Domain will remain high in the national agenda and become an electoral issue in the 2010 synchronized elections.”

Dureza, in a statement posted in the Office of the Press Secretary website, said he feels “greatly privileged and honored to be chosen by Her Excellency the President as her Chief Presidential Legal Counsel.”

”Being the President’s legal adviser will bring me new challenges and fresh work perspectives. This will be an enriching experience for me,” he said, adding his seven-month stint as Press Secretary “allowed me to revisit my first career as a journalist.”

“It gave me a chance to work closely with my former colleagues in the media as well as new media acquaintances along the way. I thank the different units of the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) and the Malacanang Press Corps (MPC) for the support they have given me as Press Secretary,” he said.

As Palace
lawyer, Dureza said he will be “working in a field where I have also devoted many of my fruitful years – as law practitioner and in the government. In this new assignment, I will continue to connect with the press and the public.” (MindaNews)