COMMENT: Racing against Time (Second of a Series) by Patricio P. Diaz

II. Process Mired

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (November 15, 2010)- While all elements necessary for the peace negotiation to re-start are in place, The Aquino peace team questions the facilitation processes and wants the current facilitator changed. This and GRP Panel Chair Marvic Leonen’s justification of the GRP team’s position were discussed in the first part of this Comment.

Leonen Seconded

UP Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, member of the GP Peace Panel, seconded Leonen in her short talk before the 6th Mindanao Media Summit in Davao City last November 6. She stated why the talks are delayed:

“We are ready as a panel but we do have some concerns regarding the process of facilitation, the pending status of which has not enabled the immediate commencement of talks.” (Italics mine)

She clarified what the concerns are while understanding how these came to be:

“The present framework of our talks has a very sophisticated set of protocols especially because, in this national issue, we have engaged a third country facilitator. There is of course some history to why our negotiations have arrived at this set of modalities.  But, you do have to agree with me that should one side have concerns with respect to how the facilitation is set up, that it is entitled to raise these concerns through the proper channel.” (Bold mine)

Echoing Leonen, she justified the GRP position and attributed the delay to the framework of facilitation:

“In any negotiation there should be a level of comfort with regards the infrastructure for the talks that will carry us through for the long haul. This is a matter we would like to believe the other party deems equally essential to address.

“Less time would have passed had our current framework allowed the two parties to communicate directly with each other to sort out preliminary matters like this.”

By “pending status” and “proper channel”, Ferrer suggested that Government has already officially advised Malaysia about the GRP peace panel’s concerns together with its proposals. In its report on Ferrer’s talk, MindaNews (November 7, 2010) cited Ferrer as saying that “the government was coming up with much better proposals on facilitation and other matters” without elaboration. She must have said this during the open forum.

How Long?

How long will the pendency of “the pending status” of the facilitation process being questioned “through the proper channel” have to be? That long the resumption of peace talks will have to wait.  And, we all know that processes through the proper channel – or diplomatic processes – are never that fast.

Have the members of the Aquino peace team known how Malaysia became the third-party facilitator of the GRP-MILF negotiation? OPAPP Secretary Teresita Quinto-Deles should have; she held the same position under the Arroyo administration. It seems they don’t know; otherwise, their concerns would not have been in “pending status”.

Consequently, the resumption of the talks will wait longer than what is comfortable.

Customary Practice

Preparatory to writing this Comment, I sent three sets of question to Camilo “Bong” Montesa concerning how Malaysia had become the third-party facilitator. He is most knowledgeable; he joined the Peace Talks in 2004 together with Secretary Silvestre Afable, GRP Panel Chair, and was assistant OPAPP secretary when the Arroyo peace team disbanded.

How did Malaysia happen to be engaged as third-party facilitator of the GRP-MILF peace talks?

According to Montesa, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as early as December 2000 (before she became president and President Joseph Estrada was facing impeachment trial) met Malaysian Finance Minister Tun Datuk Zainuddin through whom she requested Malaysia’s help in solving the Bangsamoro problem. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad affirmed the request when she was on state visit to Malaysia (while still vice president).

After her assumption to the presidency in January 2001, emissaries from the Malaysian Office of the Prime Minister visited MILF Chair Salamat Hashim “several times to present Malaysia’s willingness to help restart the peace talks”. Salamat and the MILF Central Committee, after some hesitation, accepted the offer; the “Malaysian OPM relayed this to the concerned Philippine officials”.

Through the process of Arroyo’s request, Malaysia’s affirmation, the offer to the MILF, the acceptance, and the transmission of the acceptance to Malacañang, there was no direct contact between the Philippine Government and the MILF.

Prime Minister Mahathir designated the Research Department of his Office as the peace talks Secretariat and the Director-General as the Facilitator. Datuk Othman was not the first facilitator – becoming one only in 2003 when he was appointed OPM-RD Director-General.  He became Facilitator by virtue of his being OPM-RD Director-General.

[Judge Soliman M. Santos Jr., an advocate of the peaceful solution of the Bangsamoro Problem long before his recent appointment as RTC judge, corroborates Montesa’s account in his research paper, Malaysia’s Role in the Peace Negotiation between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Providentially, on reading my questions to Montesa in Kusogmindanaw website, he sent me his paper.]

On the facilitation processes being questioned and the designation of the facilitator, Montesa opines:

“Under the current setup, however, there are no formal guidelines on the conduct of the negotiations.  Again the correct practice evolved as customary practice and not based on a set of “guidelines”.  The problem, I think, is that because the Philippine Government [under Aquino] has an entirely new team; they have no institutional memory of these so-called customary practice and therefore are at a loss and distrustful of the process.”

Impasse

As Montesa sees it, “As far as the MILF is concerned, the protocol is to course everything to the OPM-RD and Datuk Othman. As far as the Philippine Government is concerned and since they want to by-pass Othman (effectively by-passing the OPM-RD), they want to do this through diplomatic channels or through MOFA (Minister of Foreign Affairs).”

So the problem arises:

“Because of lack of institutional memory, the new Philippine Government team fails to understand that the facilitation is being done institutionally by the OPM and not the MOFA.  OPM and MOFA have their own internal political dynamics.  If PH (Philippine) government sends notice to Malaysian Government through MOFA, there is no guarantee that it will reach OPM-RD or Othman.  Othman and OPM-RD will also take that as an insult.

“Thus the impasse is like this: Othman and OPM-RD are waiting for the PH government to send them notice.  In fact, Othman sent notice to PH and MILF for a pre-talks conference which was (PH, i.e. Deles and Leonen) ignored and have not responded to.  They do not want to relate to Othman.

“PH is sending feelers to Malaysia through MOFA but, of course, Malaysia will not respond.  They will respond only to a communication straight to Othman and OPM-RD.  The PM, as of last week, confirmed that Othman will remain as facilitator.

But PH government will not back down so they keep ignoring OPM-RD and Othman.  Hence, there is no movement on the talks.”

Questions

Why can’t the Aquino peace team accept the current processes, re-start the talks and present its concern during the pre-conference meetings? Maybe, a further study of the history of the third-party facilitation will make the GRP team re-think its concerns.  In fairness to Malaysia, reference to “the experiences of past panels and secretariats” as a basis of the concerns calls for a review. We will discuss this later.

Is pride involved here? If it is then the peace process can be mired in the facilitation issue. And there are foreseeable roadblocks in the Aquino peace policy as presented by Secretary Deles that will slow down the pace of the race against time. That will be for another Comment.

(Next: On Aquino Peace Policy)

(“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])

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