Palace names Fr. Eliseo Mercado as new peace panel chair to negotiate with MILF

 

It’s the first time a Catholic priest has been named chair of the government peace panel although Fr. Mercado, 59, 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.

In a four-paragraph press statement Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza read to MindaNews, he said Mercado’s chairmanship, “will ensure a seamless transition and a continuity in the efforts to move forward the peace negotiation with the MILF.”

There was no mention in Dureza’s statement as to why Afable resigned. Dureza’s statement merely said Fr. Mercado will take over the chairmanship of the peace panel vice Afable “who has relinquished his post over the weekend.”

Fr. Mercado is the fourth government peace panel chair under the Arroyo administration, after Dureza, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Afable.

“It’s supposed to be confidential stage yet,” Fr. Mercado told MindaNews in a text message when asked if he had, indeed, accepted the chairmanship.

He later told MindaNews he was “supposed to be leaving tomorrow for a two-month rest…so it is now cancelled because it is now public… I go to OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) on Monday for briefing and update” in the hope that “I may be able to contribute to peace in Southern Philippines and Southeast Asia, so help me God.”

He was supposed to go on vacation in “Hawaii, the paradise on earth.”

After a decade serving as president of the Notre Dame University, he went on a Fulbright Millennium Scholarship on Peace and Conflict Resolution in Washington DC in 2001 and was later assigned as the Rome-based Director for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of the OMI worldwide.

He was also the Permanent Representative of the OMI to the United Nations for four years.

But Fr. Mercado continuously updated himself on Mindanao developments through frequent visits during his break and through the e-mail.

While serving as university president, he was also active in the peace advocacy movement through Kusog Mindanaw and the Mindanao Peace Advocates’ Conference.

He was also involved in the GRP-Moro National Liberation Front peace process, even accepting membership and later the floorleader’s position in the Consultative Assembly which was part of the Southern Philippines Council on Peace and Development MNLF chair Nur Misuari chaired. He resigned from that post in the middle of Estrada’s “all-out war.”

He was named Bagong Bayani ng Bagong Milenyo by the Geny Lopez Foundation, was Bukas Palad awardee of the Ateneo de Manila University in 2006and was conferred the Doctor of Humanities for Peace-making by the Ateneo de Davao University.

In a paper  titled The 10th Anniversary of the Historic Final Peace Agreement between the GRP and the MNLF – A Personal Note,” which he presented in Cotabato City during the1st Memorial Lecture on the GRP- MNLF Final Peace a few days before the 10th anniversary of the September 2, 1996 GRP-MNLF peace agreement last year,  Fr. Mercado said the celebration of the tenth year anniversary was ”an appropriate time to take stock of the implementation of the peace agreement.  I am sure there are weaknesses and strengths as well as gains and failures… but the purpose of the review is NOT to point accusing fingers to anyone.  We need to identify the gaps and lapses… and celebrate milestone but always with the “end in view” or vision of the FPA as our North Star.  Take hold of that North 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…!” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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