LETTER FROM MINDANAO: What primacy of the peace process?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 June) – Until Saturday afternoon, June 16, everyone was optimistic about the resumption of talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Just a week earlier, on June 9, military officials in the Army’s 6th Infantry Division had a historic meeting with their counterparts in the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces in a hotel in CotabatoCity. Days earlier,  Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, Division chief, brought his commanders to DavaoCity for a “Culture of Peace” seminar. Others were sent to attend a peace course of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.

In Zamboanga Sibugay, the government and MILF’s  Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) immediately went to work as soon as word got around that an Italian priest, Giancarlo Bossi, PIME, was kidnapped on June 10.

Canada was joining the development sector of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Malaysian facilitator in the GRP-MILF talks would be arriving Sunday, June 17.

Then the news: President Arroyo accepted Friday night (June 15) the courtesy resignation of  Silvestre Afable, government peace panel chair. So? That’s routine, right?

As it turned out, it wasn’t routine at all because by midnight, a replacement had been named: Father Eliseo R. Mercado, Jr. of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Wow, whoever wanted Afable out – whoever they may be  — these hawks in the Cabinet who should have been kicked out in the first place – certainly did not waste any time.

I have absolutely no doubt about Father Mercado’s qualifications and his commitment to peace. Iknow, I know, he’s one of my mentors, but Father Jun, please, I’d rather see you as mediator, not as government negotiator.

If Afable had voluntarily resigned, as Malacanang wants us to believe, surely he would have told the other members of his panel, right? But the members knew only AFTER his courtesy resignation was accepted and a replacement named.

Afable knew how difficult the “final stage” is.

He told the military and MILF in CotabatoCity on June 9: “We are now facing the last stage of the peace talks… The final stage of any peace negotiation like this will always be occasioned by pressures, rumors, by those who do not want peace to succeed. These pressures will come from within many places, but I ask you this time, at this crucial time that everyday that we work for peace, everyday that we try, let us try to isolate ourselves from any forces that will now try to defeat (us).”

You do not expect the man who said those lines to decide on his own six days later by tendering his resignation without telling his panel members, right?

Also, my source could not have been wrong in saying Afable tendered his courtesy resignation as part of the routine but it was accepted and a replacement was immediately named.

Who got Afable out?  And why did Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo agree to let him go at this very crucial stage of the peace process?

That she did so only shows the level of her commitment to the peace process.

And she has the gall to repeatedly say, “uphold the primacy of the peace process” and “step up all measures to enforce the law, preserve the atmosphere of peace and stability, and advance the ongoing peace talks between the Government and the MILF”?

If she practices what she preaches, if she truly upholds the primacy of the peace process, she should fire those who do not want peace to succeed, those who asked her to get Afable out, reinstate Afable and give him all the support he needs.

But will she? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. You may email the author at carol@mindanews.com or visit www.carolynoarguillas.com).