MIND da NEWS: Media Hyping

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/23 December) — Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo used to regale the country through the media with assurances that the signing of the GRP-MILF final peace agreement was at hand. Between June 30, 2004 — the first such date — and June 30, 2010, she had set a number of dates. By June 3, 2010, she gave up and relinquished the burden of negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to the succeeding president. GMA indulged in media hyping; it did not help her achieve peace with the MILF, her most coveted legacy.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III appears to be indulging in the same media hyping. In his State of the Nation Address, he set the end of the Ramadan – after September – as the date to resume the peace negotiation.  His peace team led by Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles , Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Dean Marvic Leonen, head of the GRP Peace Panel, echoed the President.

That did not happen.  Two months later, it came out in the media that the Philippine Government – while keeping Malaysia as the third-party facilitator – wanted Datuk Othman, the third-person facilitator, changed for alleged bias against the GRP peace negotiators  of the Arroyo government. In the media, the GRP peace team has been saying that through-channel communications had been done and that the talks would resume soon.  After so many a “soon”, the talk has remained in the freezer.

Last December 5, Leonen told MindaNews he had personally handcarried the latest communication to Kuala Lumpur and that he hoped exploratory talks with MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal would happen on or before December 14. That, too, went by without the talk resuming.  The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process last December 22 said Leonen had hoped the facilitator issue would be resolved soon.

Last Tuesday, December 21, speaking at a dinner fellowship with media representatives in Pasig City, Leonen said of the talk resumption: “The earliest, we hope, is January next year.”  (MindaNews, December 23, 2010). Has Leonen realized that media hyping would not work? Only by addressing their series of errors can the GRP team hope to resume the talks “soon”.

First, they should not have made the Malaysian facilitator, Datuk Othman, an issue.  They relied fully on the report to them of former GRP Panel chief Rafael Seguis. To know the truth and validity of Seguis’ report, they should have resumed the talk with Othman facilitating. Only if Seguis’ charges were found true should they have raised the issue.

Second, if Datuk Othman was really an issue, they should have kept it between the Office of the President and the Office of the Prime Minister. Airing the issue in the Philippine media unnecessarily complicated the issue. Before Malaysia’s OPM could look into the complaint, Philippine media had already judged Othman as well as Malaysia the villain.

Third, that Malaysia’s OPM has obviously ignored the complaint would show that it does not believe the charges as presented.  It needs more evidence. But with the issue already judged in Philippine media, diplomatic fall backs have been blocked.  National pride and honor have come into play.  Malaysia’s OPM is evidently standing pat behind Othman. The more GRP fumes and resorts to media, the harder and deeper both sides dig in.

Fourth, the Office of the President should have presented its communications directly to Malaysia’s OPM, not through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 2001, Malaysia’s MFA had nothing to do with the negotiation.  Why should the Philippine Government now change the protocol? This must have offended the Prime Minister.  That should explain why the Philippine through-channel communications have not reached the OPM, or, if they had, the OPM has ignored them.

In fine, the Aquino Government would like the talks conducted in its own way. And it has involved the Philippine media instead of keeping the matter tightly wrapped in diplomatic coat. Media leaks may force issues to be resolved in the Philippines.  We’re afraid, that is not the way in Malaysia.

How to address its errors and extricate itself from the mire called media hyping is the biggest problem of the Aquino Government and its Peace Team in 2011.  (Patricio P. Diaz writes the column,  “Comment,” for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews).