GMA accepts courtesy resignation of Afable as peace panel chair

“Trust has been (earned) over the years then a newcomer comes in suddenly. He will start from number one. But of course, that’s GRP’s (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) prerogative,” Iqbal said.

Malacanang has not officially announced the acceptance but Newsbreak online reported Saturday afternoon that Afable resigned because of lack of support from the Cabinet and the Office of the President.

MindaNews sources said Afable tendered his courtesy resignation, as mandated of all Cabinet secretaries and although he was not so happy with the support from the Cabinet and the Office of the President, he was looking forward to completing the negotiation which is on its final stages and where progress has been achieved to break the impasse over ancestral domain, particularly on the issue of territory.

The peace panels are expected to resume talks in Kuala Lumpur soon and the tomorrrow, Sunday, the Malaysian facilitator is expected to arrive in the country. Malaysia facilitates the talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

A Malacanang source who requested not to be named because there is no official announcement as yet, told MindaNews Afable’s replacement would be a Mindanawon. The source told MindaNews Afable had long wanted to resign.

Afable could not be reached for comment.

Afable is the  third government peace panel chair since Arroyo reopened talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in early 2001. His predecessors were Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. Before Arroyo, the peace panel chairs under the Ramos and Estrada administrations were all retired military generals:  Fortunato Abat, Orlando Soriano and Edgardo Batenga.

“Afable was better than most of his predecessors so far,” MILF peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura said, adding, ours are incremental gains. If GRP means reverse gear, it’s a great blunder. Maybe he (Afable), too, has reached the end of the line because of the indecisiveness at the top. That is their (government’s) lookout. The bottomline is either Filipinos don’t really know the Moros, or pretend to know, or never want to know them truly, never mind understanding them.”

“It’s unexpected. I was surprised to hear the President accepted the resignation. Secretary Afable has done well to keep the peace talks on the right track despite some problems. He has gained the respect of the MILF and also of the civil society. Sayang!” Fr. Roberto Layson, head of the Oblates of  Mary Immaculate’s Inter-Religious Dialogue and vice chair of the Mindanao People’s Caucus, said.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, deputy director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said Afable is “a highly respected, no-nonsense negotiator  and enjoys the backing of the peace movements in Mindanao. It would be a great blunder to let Afable go at this crucial stage in the peace talks. Spare the GRP-MLF talks from this politics of survival.”

Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, said the new development will “affect the pacing of the GRP-MILF peace talks.”

“The new panel head, especially if somebody who’s not involved in the talks, will have to familiarize himself with the issues,” he said, adding the head of the peace panel “must have direct access to the decision maker. He must have the political support of the decision maker. Negotiation is not Public Relations work but hard bargaining on issues that is why chief negotiator must have power to compromise.”

Lawyer Zen Malang, executive director of the Moro Law and Policy Center said “for those familiar with the difficulties arising from the complex dynamics behind the peace process, there is comfort in seeing Secretary Afable as chair of the GRP panel. There are indications that some influential members in Pres. Arroyo’s  Cabinet who do not see eye to eye with his approach in the peace process, Cabinet members who would like to go back to failed, hawkish, n tokenism of past GRP approaches. That Secretary Afable has chosen to stick it out with the panel is the reason why peace advocates, even his counterparts in the MILF panel concede his personal integrity in seeking a negotiated solution to the Mindanao conflict. Thus, news of Pres. Arroyo’s acceptance of his courtesy resignation, if proven true, can only give rise to disturbing questions. One wonders to which direction Malacanang intends to take the peace process.”

Newsbreak Online quoted Steve Rheault Kihara of the Canadian Embassy as saying Afable’s resignation is “regrettable” as he was “a key factor in the very real progress so far and he is deeply respected by both sides as well as by the international community.”

Newsbreak said the Canadian government is expected to participate in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and that a Canadian official will be sent to Cotabato to monitor development projects.

At present, the IMT headed by Malaysia, has a military contingent from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya and  a development team from Japan. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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