Mixed reactions greet Mercado’s appointment; MILF says it’s a “setback”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal kept mum Saturday when told Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza had issued a statement announcing the appointment of Fr. Mercado as new peace panel chair.

Iqbal broke his silence only at 12:20 Sunday noon with a text message to MindaNews that read: "it's a setback. Regarding Fr. Mercado, we respect and highly regard him but the job is strictly state matters. There is separation of church and state in the Philippines."

Last Saturday, his immediate reaction to President Arroyo's acceptance of the courtesy resignation of his counterpart in the panel, Secretary Silvestre Afable, was "it's a bad signal for the peace process."

"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.

Fr. Mercado, a known peace advocate,  headed the Independent Fact-Finding Mission that monitored the implementation of the government-MILF peace talks until the talks collapsed with the "all-out war" waged by the Estrada administration. He was also part of the Quick Response Team that rushed to the scene where alleged violations of the ceasefire are reported.

Fr. Mercado declined to comment on the reactions. He told MindaNews there is no schedule as yet on the takeover but he was going to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on Monday for briefing.

Amina Rasul, excecutive director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, said, "on the positive side, Fr. Mercado is a highly credible peace advocate who has intimate knowledge of the issues. He can help guide government to reach effective solutions. On the negative side, he is not a member of the GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) Cabinet. If anything goes wrong, a government outsider makes for a
good scapegoat."

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, deputy chief of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, said she is worried over the choice of a Catholic priest as this could be perceived as a religious conflict when it's not.

Lawyer Zen Malang, executive director of the Moro Law and Policy Center, said he is "not really sure what to make of Fr. Jun (Mercado) as a replacement. He has been gone for sometime. I don't know where he stands now on how to resolve the conflict but what I really cannot understand is why Malacanang chose this time to replace the chair, now that there is rapport between the panels. Or did Sec. Afable really want to resign because he had lost hope on how to move the peace agenda in Cabinet meetings which would raise the question: what makes Fr. Jun think he can?  These are all speculations so the sooner we know the reasons behind Sec. Afable's resignation, the faster we can make sense of the impact of these developments."

Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society said "it is either Afable has problems with GRP (Philippine government) of Malacanang with him. Otherwise, the MILF is already comfortable with him. Fr. Jun must first believe that agreement is possible. That he can spell the difference."

"Fr. Jun must lay down his alternative plan to GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) or GMA will tell him how things should be. This makes sense if he accepts the chairmanship. If he can make a breakthrough, then he will not go down in history as part of a failure," Alim said.

MILF peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura could not hide his disappointment. He said Fr. Mercado was chair of the Quick Response Team in 2000 but "was ineffective n stopping military assault of Camp Abubakar in 2000."

"From Cabinet man to church man," Mastura said of the three former government peace panel chairs under the Arroyo administration – Jesus Dureza, then Presidential Adviser for Mindanao; Peace Process Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Presidential Communications Director Afable)

"Am doubly concerned government outlook is churchy treatment of the peace process. This is the height of insensitivity of the missionary thrust for over three centuries. Now new setback in our more informed generation to deal with alienation of the Bangsamoro people," he said.

Mastura said Fr. Mercado's stand is clear in that the latter considers the 1996 government-Moro National Liberation Front "Final Peace Agreement" as his "north star."

Mastura said Fr. Mercado thinks of the "government-MILF agreement as an appendix."

MindaNews columnist Patricio P. Diaz said that whoever will be the chair of the GRP panel is secondary. "It is the policy and the policy makers — collectively called 'Manila' — that hold the fate of the GRP-MILF peace  negotiation, during and after," he said.

"As I see it, the RP panel chair has an unenviable role — persuading the MILF to tone down its position and convincing Manila to relax its non-negotiable stand on the Constitution, besides dealing with hawks in Congress and the military," he added.

"Surely, Father Jun needs endless prayers," Diaz said.

Fr. Mercado in a a paper  titled "The 10th Anniversary of the Historic Final Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MNLF – A Personal Note," read during the 1st Memorial Lecture on the GRP- MNLF Final Peace last year, acknowledged the gains, failures, gaps and lapses of the Sept. 2, 1996 peace agreement which he described as the "North Star.'

"Take hold of that North [WINDOWS-1252?]Star… for without it we shall be lost and our compass will have no use. In fact that review has already begun today…
and God- willing… from here we shall rise again – this time, no longer as separate and divided but together…!" Fr. Mercado said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Comments

comments