ADVOCACY MindaNOW: Unsolicited advice: “Please lang!”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 September) — POSITIVE NOISE. Despite the outright rejection by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of the government’s  (GPH) reply draft, we are hearing very positive “noise” from both sides of the fence. From the government, Chair Marvic Leonen said there are “common grounds” to get the talks going. From the MILF, they’re openly saying that there is no breakdown of talks , although still insisting on a “substate” regime. Then I read President Aquino saying in Dumaguete that we should not all be held “captive by jargons”, hinting that there could be commonality except that perhaps, the two sides may be speaking in different  tongues.  Meaning, the government’s proposal may  be close to or will eventually  evolve close to  MILF’s substate except that they are called by  different names. Good balancing for the moment. And a good signal from the president no less.

STAY ABOVE THE FRAY.-But, if I may, I would have preferred that the president refrain from commenting on the peace talks developments and leave this to his peace adviser or  panel to give them the leeway, and the public projection of a mandate and the  confidence  they badly need. They must be publicly empowered not only in the eyes of the MILF but to the stakeholders and the public as well. The periodic presidential foray with his public statements instead of letting his negotiators speak will eventually lead the MILF and the public to always await the President’s statement no less in future milestone issues. This does not exude public confidence about the capability of his negotiators, possibly publicly undermining them. And they may not deserve this perception.

By reason of his office and as “principal”, the president must  insulate his high office from the ups and downs of peace negotiations. That Tokyo meeting was more than enough to drive home his point that yes, he’s keen on seeing a final settlement. Please stay above the fray, Mr. President.  Please “lang”!

LACK OF SENSITIVITY. It may also be good to point out some other  “sensitivities”. And   I have another  unsolicited advice. The government  must try, as much as possible, to avoid proclaiming or publicly mentioning peso denominations and monetary values in  the negotiations. For example, in the opening paragraphs of the GPH Chair’s statement in the recent Kuala Lumpur meeting,  he  immediately announced that he  was giving a check to the MILF in the amount of  P5 million pesos for the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) which was previously organized and designed to train and capacitate the Bangsamoro for leadership roles in the future. I found it a bit awkward if not discomforting.  Imagine opening peace negotiations with  money publicly offered up front? I shudder at the thought!  Then a GPH panel member announced that an initial P100 million fund out of about P1 billion  is being prepositioned with a proposed Commission to fund some projects as “peace dividends”. Pardon me for saying but   there is apparently “lack of sensitivity” to the possible implications or perceptions generated by  such gratuitous gestures. You don’t usually offer  money up front across the table  to your  counterparts across the table while negotiations are still starting and the main bone of contention is not about money. It’s like buttering  bread or dangling a piece of meat to the other side. I squirmed every time. Irrespective of the noble intentions, (ostensibly to make good copy to the public showing how far government is willing to go for peace) “a buy out” perception must be totally avoided. I may not be privy on how the MILF feels about this, but I can only suspect that there is great but discreet and quiet  “discomfort” in this. I salute them for keeping their peace despite  this slur, however unintended it may be. So next time, take note. Please “lang”!

RE-INVENTING. I have been getting “inside” feedback that while the new panel, especially Panel Chair Marvic, is so super competent and brilliant and hardworking,  its  determined effort to “get rid” of the old and previous past including re-inventing the negotiating mode  has resulted to some initial difficulties. And lapses, if I may.

Expectedly, there’s this dominating feeling now in the P-Noy camp that this  administration must totally exorcise itself from the “ previous  past”:  from changing negotiating paradigms to the most   trivial: like changing the acronym    “GRP” (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) to “GPH” (Government of the Philippines) etc.  Well…

FROM SCRATCH. There is significance in what the MILF is publicly saying that the GPH (not GRP anymore) is now starting “from scratch”, meaning abandoning not only the negativities of the past but also ignoring the positive gains after 14 years of negotiations that spanned two administrations. (I also read the National Democratic Front complaining about the same predicament.) Even technical people were replaced.  There’s no one left to provide some “institutional memories” that can be helpful, I was told. At best, the new manpower is composed of  fresh recruits, bright no doubt  but sadly  with no ground experience about the realities and nuances of such a complicated and sensitive process.

LEARNING FROM PAST.  Indeed,   there is a wealth of insights and experience including  some previous and instructive  mistakes and lapses done in the past that are known to those who had been there before. Hindsight has its great instructive value, no doubt.

My unsolicited advice to the present negotiators: learn from past negotiators. Who knows,  they can also learn from the new. How to do this?   A simple  phone call to former negotiators for coffee or a cheap lunch or dinner  will do the trick.

In my case, I had my own mistakes and lapses. I don’t want anyone to repeat them . And a few milestones as well to share.  Truth to tell,   I have been waiting  for such phone call for sometime now when I initially heard Peace Adviser  Ging Deles announce about a year ago  that she was constituting a council of advisers to be composed of former chief negotiators. Honestly, I would have preferred to give my unsolicited advice discreetly there. Not here.

I’m sure the other  past chief negotiators  (for talks with  MILF, MNLF, CPP/NPA/NDF) are also waiting for their phones to ring. The last time we checked, our  phones can still be reached! (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW. You may email him at [email protected])