COMMENT: Racing against Time (3) By Patricio P. Diaz

[Author’s Note’: The discussion of “Aquino Peace Policy”, set in the last series for discussion in the present series will be done later.]

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 Nov) — As told by the key persons of the Aquino GRP peace team, the pending status of their concern regarding the facilitation process and the current Malaysian facilitator – suggesting there has been no response to their “through proper channel” communication to resolve the issue – is one of the causes of the delay to re-start the peace talks. The issue is extra sensitive as it involves Malaysia as the third-party facilitator.

In Fairness

What are these concerns? The Aquino peace team has not come out with specifics. Their general statements in their speeches and media reports – citing their discomfort “based on the experience of past [GRP] panels and secretariats” — insinuate that the process and the facilitator had been unfair to the Philippine Government and, unless revised, GRP would continue to be at a disadvantage. In fairness to Malaysia and truth, the concerns should have been specified when brought out in public.

We discussed earlier the facilitation process with Malaysia as the third-party facilitator based on a narration of facts by Camilo “Bong” Montesa, a key person in the past Arroyo GRP peace team, and the well-researched paper [done under the auspices of the Southeast Asia Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN) research exchange program]Malaysia’s Role in the Peace Negotiation between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – of Soliman M. Santos, Jr., lawyer, scholar, Mindanao peace advocate and now CFI judge.

The paper [henceforth referred to as “MR”] gives a clear account of how the facilitation process functions. It sheds some light on the concerns of the Aquino peace team suggesting the wisdom on the part of the team to rethink its concerns. Is it among the resource materials of the Aquino peace team.

Specific Roles

The following are what key players in the negotiations – GRP, MILF and Malaysia — say about Malaysia as a third-party facilitator (MR 6, 7, 8):

  • Malaysia is “go-between”: The “GRP and MILF peace negotiators course their propositions and positions to each other through the Malaysian secretariat at the OPM-RD. (Atty. Lanamg S. Ali, MILF legal counsel and peace negotiator)
  • Provides the atmosphere conducive for negotiation, referring to venue. (H.E. Datuk Zakaria Abd. Hamid, director-general, OPM-RD, first facilitator)

  • Malaysia’s representative is present in the talks to help bridge differences if there are problems during sessions, and doing this during breaks by shuttling between parties. It is a “referee” role. The presence of Malaysia’s representative is important as a witness to important commitments or understandings, some of which may not have been put in writing, like on the issue of MILF camps. (Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, as interviewed by Santos)
  • Get the position of one side to the other side; conduct shuttle negotiations; facilitate face-to-face talks; and provide venue and facilities. (Secretary Silvestre C. Afable, Head, Presidential Management Staff, later GRP Peace Panel Chair, as interviewed by Santos)
  • Administers the entire peace talks, catering all aspects; is present during the talks but not presiding [except in executive meetings], just opening it; comes in with advice, sometimes proposing a way out, when there are difficult, ticklish issues – calling for a break and shuttling between parties, thus becoming a mediator. (Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF Vice Chair for Military Affairs and Peace Panel Chair – later MILF Chairman – as interviewed by Santos)

Malaysia also mediates (MR: 9, 10, 11).

  • Beyond providing an atmosphere conducive for negotiations and some shuttle diplomacy to trouble-shoot difficult issues and deadlocks in the negotiations, Malaysia has actually suggested and promoted a certain direction for the parties for the resolution of the armed conflict. These suggestions or directions have come not during the actual negotiations but technically outside yet proximate to them, and they are quite substantive with bearing on the process, outcome and solution. (From Santos’ interview of Murad)

  • On several occasions, top Malaysian officials urged the MILF not to negotiate for independence:

“We call upon the Bangsamoro to take this opportunity to participate in this political exercise so that you are in a position to administer your affairs within the framework of the Philippine Constitution, the Tripoli Agreement and the Jakarta Accord. (Finance and Special Functions Minister Datuk Tun Daim Zainuddin)

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On 26 March 2001, two days after the signing of the resumption agreement in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Mahathir spoke to the MILF peace panel in his office for 40 minutes. Manila-based Newsbreak reported: “His message to the rebel leaders was stunningly clear: Final peace can only be achieved through a political settlement. In so many words, the Malaysian strongman was telling the MILF to give up the war for secession … Mahathir also assured the rebels of Malaysia’s assistance to needy Muslims and investment pledges to Mindanao.”

(Italics mine) (From “The Road to Kuala Lumpur,” by Marites Danguilan Vitug, in Newsbreak, 18-15 April 2001, 22-3)

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‘In your search for peace it is in the best interest of the Bangsamoro, the Philippine government and the region that any compromise would have to be based on the principle of no independence and respect for the integrity and sovereignty of the Philippine nation and in return, the Bangsamoro be given assurance that their rights as citizens of the Philippines are secured and respected. (Facilitator Datuk Zakaria at the opening ceremony of the Second Formal Peace Talks on 24 July 2001 in reference to the words of Libyan Leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab and Prime Minister Mahathir.)

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As we respect the territorial integrity of the Philippines, we urge that secessionist groups work within the constitutional framework of the country. Challenging the legitimacy of the sacrosanct document is something which we do not support or condone. The Moro movement must also combat radicalism and militant elements within its organization. If indeed it claims to represent Muslims, then they should begin to promote Islam the right way, and not adopt extreme and militant tendency. (Defence Minister Mohamed Najib Tun Abdul Razak, speaking in Manila in April 2003 commenting on the slow pace of the talks. At this time, exploratory talks had just resumed following its suspension in March 2002 and to be suspended again on May 6, 2003.)

The paper, covering the period ending 2003, includes other pronouncements relevant to the conduct of the peace negotiation. The above excerpts touch on the core issue of Bangsamoro right to self-determination – urging the MILF to adopt non-independent solution to Bangsamoro Problem.

What in these pronounced roles of Malaysia as facilitator and instances of mediation would occasion “discomfort” on the part of the Philippines? Could the conduct of the facilitator in succeeding years have caused the “discomfort”?

(Next: Out in the Open)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2002 for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])