Retired General Rodolfo Garcia is new peace panel chair

 

Before he was named panel cahir, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced on June 16 that Malacanang had named Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) as the new peace panel chair following the resignation of Afable.

President Arroyo accepted Afable’s courtesy resignation evening of June 15. Mercado was chosen as replacement before midnight to provide what Dureza described on June 16 as “seamless transition.”

Father Mercado’s appointment, however, was objected to by the MILF. After communicating with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and clarifying their objections, Father Mercado announced on June 20 his decision not to accept the chairmanship of the government peace panel

Garcia, who is turning 59 on July 7, is the fourth peace panel chair after Dureza, then Presidential Peace Adviser Eduardo Ermita, and Afable, and the second retired general after Ermita, to serve under the Arroyo administration.

In the ten-year talks with the MILF, however, he is the seventh peace panel chair and the fourth retired general-chair across the Ramos-Estrada-Arroyo administrations. The other retired generals are Fortunato Abat, Orlando Soriano and Edgardo Batenga.

A native of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, Garcia also served as Undersecretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) from July 8, 2004 to November 2005 and since then has been Assistant to the President of Fortune Tobacco Corporation, Inc.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal declined to comment on Garcia’s appointment, claiming they have to await the official communication from the Philippine government through  Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian government has been facilitating the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF since March 2001.

But the MILF’s website quoted Muhammad Ameen, chair of the MILF secretariat, as saying, “we know him (Garcia) very well from his stint as Army officer in Central Mindanao up to his becoming a member of the government peace panel.”

Ameen was also reported to have said Garcia “knows the issue of Mindanao very well and the nuances of the present peace talks, especially the issues of ancestral domain” but whether or not he will be a good negotiator like his predecessor, “depends on his consistency and how he relates to the other party across the table.”

Tarhata Maglangit of the Bangsamoro Women’s Solidarity Forum said Garcia is “okay.”

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado said  she thinks Garcia can continue what Secretary Silvestre Afable had accomplished so far. “We in the Bantay Ceasefire had worked with him when he was chair of the CCCH. He has a solid understanding of the people’s situation in the conflict-affected areas and has demonstrated his commitment to the peace process. Hope he can bring this negotiation to its final conclusion and deliver the peace that every Mindanawon rightly deserves.”

Garcia earned the respect of civil society groups for his commitment to the peace process, as CCCH chair from August 2003 until his retirement in July 2004 and eventually as panel member since August 2004.

A sampling of how he earned that respect can be gleaned from his opening remarks at the 15th meeting of the Joint GRP-MILF CCCH at Tower Inn in Davao City on February 7, 2004.

Garcia said, “it is apparent to us, it is very clear to all of us as it is becoming clearer to many people in Mindanao that the peace process is the only way towards the peaceful resolution of theMindanao conflict.”

“Our task as a joint ceasefire committee is both right and righteous. We are tasked with an important and vital job where stakes are high and which can eventually determine the future of Mindanao and its people. This is a daunting task by any other measure but being men of goodwill, together we shall make a difference,” he said.

“It is said that all it needs for evil to win or to succeed is for a few good men to do nothing. So these few good men that we have here in this ceasefire committee, together with the other people of goodwill, shall do everything to make sure that the evil of conflict will be defeated and that the agenda of peace is brought forward because this is what represents what is good and what is good will emerge as victors,” Garcia said.

Garcia took up Civil Engineering from 1964 to 1966 at the University of the Philippines before proceeding to the Philippine Military Academy from 1966 to 1970.

He spent four years in Mindanao, as commander of the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade from October 9, 1994 to January 23, 1998 and as commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division from June 7, 1999 to November 11, 1999, just a few months before then President Joseph Estrada waged his “all-out war” against the MILF.

Before becoming the 6th ID chief, Garcia was deputy chief of staff for operations from Janjuary 11, 1998 to June 7, 1999. After his stint in the 6th ID, he was made commander of the 5th ID from November 12, 1999 to March 15, 2001 and commander of the Northern Luzon Command from March 15, 2001 to January 10, 2003.

Garcia was also at the reopening of the talks between the Ramos administration and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), having been Defense Attache to Indonesia from June 30, 1990 to September 1994.

He was at the signing of the Cipanas Agreement in April 1993 that formally reopened the talks and the succeeding formal peace talks held in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

 

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