COMMENT: Racing against Time (5). By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/November 25) — What really could be the truth behind the perceived biased facilitation of Othman, ergo: Malaysia, in favor of the MILF? While the best light should come from the GRP peace teams, some sources deemed reliable can shed light to see the two sides of the issue.

GRP on the Spot

The statement of Jun Mantawil, head of the MILF Peace Panel Secretariat, could not just be pooh-poohed. “All the agreements signed were discussed and deliberated squarely across the negotiating table and were mutually agreed by the parties.  Where is the one-sidedness?”

This is a statement of fact against perception. And, facts bear him out.

With Asia Foundation providing the fund, the MILF published in a 316-page book, GRP-MILF Peace Process, all the 87 peace agreements (13), implementing guidelines and procedural rules (15), communiqués and joint statements (25), consensus points and talking points (4), and other frame-work related documents (30) signed by GRP and MILF from 1997 to 2010.

Of these, 34 were signed during the “Domestic Stage” of the negotiation spanning the  Ramos and Estrada presidencies – 1997 to June 2000; 53, during the “Diplomatic Stage” under the Arroyo presidency – 2001 to Jun 3, 2010, with Malaysia as the third-party facilitator and Othman facilitating from 2003.

With Othman’s “partisanship” now at issue, does it mean that the first “34” were freely negotiated or deliberated while most of the latter “53” less freely due to the perceivably biased facilitation of Othman, hence, morally flawed? To quote MILF Panel Secretariat Chair Muhammad Ameen, the issue against Othman “creates the impression that all those documents or agreements signed during his incumbency [are] suspect and [are] open to review or scrapping (Luwaran, November 21, 2010)”.

But in his message appreciating the publication of the agreements, etc., Arroyo GRP Peace Panel Chair Rafael E. Seguis said: “This book will guide the present and future negotiating Panels who need to see the larger picture of the negotiations, and the entirety of the context by which the present peace talks are moving.  More importantly, this will give us a grasp of the work undertaken, and the immensity of the toil that still needs to be done towards achieving just and lasting peace.”

This is a testimony to the moral integrity permeating the negotiation and the agreements, etc. flowing from such negotiation. Otherwise, how could Seguis endorse morally flawed agreements, etc. to truly “guide the present and future” negotiations?

We believe Seguis freely wrote that message. It must be reconciled with the revelation that he “had categorically filed an objection on the facilitation of Mr. Othman” and that “GRP has always objected to Mr. Othman’s partisanship in the facilitation of the peace talks”. And the Aquino GRP peace team should review the basis of its “discomfort” in resuming the talks under Malaysia’s facilitation with Othman as the facilitator.

Leonen, Ferrer, Deles, et al. need to clarify who and what really are the sources of their “discomfort” – Malaysia’s facilitation through Othman or the perceptions of the anti-MOA-AD forces including top Liberal Party Leaders?

Is it just a fateful incidence that immediately after his appointment as chair of the GRP peace panel Leonen and Malacañang were enthusiastic, optimistic and reassuring as print and internet media reported — committed to resume the peace talks without preconditions after the Ramadan; yet, they balked imposing the resolution of the now well played up facilitation issue as the condition for the talks to start?

Of the other commitments — among them: not to start the talks from scratch or without a viable proposal; to start talks from the comprehensive compact, not to prolong the negotiations, and to sign a peace deal within six years – the possibility of amending the constitution to solve the Bangsamoro question stirred a hornets’ nest.

As Leonen stated it in his speech at the National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao and the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines news forum in Quezon City on August 13 and 14: “If necessary, and when acceptable to all sides, then perhaps an amendment [to the constitution] might be possible,” then elaborating when questioned, “Good faith negotiations require that we consider the universe of possibilities”.

While in his speech, he made reference to the wisdom of reviewing the facilitation process, there was no indication the GRP Peace Panel would make an issue of it.  But when the hornets swarmed over them, this was played up as an issue in the media. Was it a smokescreen?

From Malaysia

In an Associated Press report posted in (November 18, 2010), Othman “defends record in Philippine talks” – headline. For seven years, he said, “I managed to build the trust and continue to bridge two sides.  People get worked up on the details and forget major concessions.” He stressed how much work he did to get the rebels to change their position on independence. AP stated.

The AP commented that the Philippine government has not given a formal reason why it wants Othman replaced, obviously referring to the GRP’s communication to Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  But, the report continued, officials have claimed previously that he is biased toward the rebels.

Reposing his fate as facilitator on Prime Minister Najib Razak, he posed a question for those who want him replaced to ponder on: “What if my government appoints someone else and the MILF is opposed to him, or for that matter, the Philippine government objected?”

How much has the facilitation and facilitator issue affected Malaysia and the Malaysians?[to be continued]

[“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]]