Malacanang considering MILF concerns re Fr. Mercado

Dureza made the clarification following television reports that Malacanang had “backed out from its choice of “ Fr. Mercado.

GMA-7 News TV, quoting its sister radio station DZBB reported Tuesday afternoon that Malacañang “backed out from its choice of priest-educator Eliseo Mercado as chief of the government panel negotiating peace with the MILF.”

It quoted presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye as saying the choice is “not yet final” and Malacañang is still looking for the replacement of Silvestre Afable Jr as panel head. Bunye was also quoted as saying that the announcement of Mercado's appointment did not come from him.

Dureza on Saturday announced in a four-paragraph statement that the Palace had named Fr. Mercado as the new peace panel chair vice Afable “who relinquished his post over the weekend.”

Dureza said Mercado’s chairmanship “will ensure a seamless transition and a continuity in the efforts to move forward the peace negotiation with the MILF.”

Dureza told MindaNews Tuesday afternoon that Malacanang is considering the MILF’s concerns.

The MILF had said the changing of Afable was 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 Philippiens) prerogrative,” MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews in a telephone interview Saturday afternoon.

On the replacement of Afable by Mercado, Iqbal said on Sunday it was a “setback” and that while they “respect and highly regard (Fr. Mercado) but the job is strictly state matters. There is separation of church and state in the Philippines."

MILF peace panel member Datu Michael Mastura said the peace negotiations had been downgraded with the naming of a churchman when previous chairs were Cabinet men.

Dureza said on Monday, “we got feedback about the MILF’s concerns about him (Fr. Mercado) so now we’re trying to clarify these concerns because it is important that the new negotiator is welcomed by the other side.”

Dureza said the Palace has not issued Fr. Mercado an official appointment as yet “but he remains our choice.”

Fr. Mercado told MindaNews  in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon that he was aware of the objections posed by the MILF and that these concerns were being addressed.

He said among these concerns is the alleged downgrading of the peace process. “This is not downgrading. This is seamless transition,” he said.

In his “opening note” emailed to MindaNews early Monday morning, Fr. Mercado said, “I wish to thank President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her trust and confidence for giving me the mandate.  She assures me not only of her Government’s policy of the ‘Primacy of the Peace Process’ but more so of her unstinting support and commitment to the Peace Process and my leadership as Chief Negotiator of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines in our continuing peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). I shall brief her and the Cabinet on a regular basis on the progress of the Peace Process.  To show her support and commitment, she has given me full power and confidence to write the specifications of the mandate that need to be added to the existing one.”

Fr. Mercado said he is still writing the additional specifications which he said, includes the concerns raised by the MILF.

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