Amuck with Bias

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/31 Dec) — “Unsaon ni pagtubag? (Literally: How do we reply to this?) So many sweeping assumptions. A simple basic research on his part will go a long way … but how to tell him that… I’m not sure I should do it.” This, Prof. Rudy B. Rodil said in his e-mail the other day commenting on Philippine Star columnist Federico D. Pascual, Jr.’s article, “High time gov’t stood up to MILF” in his December 28 column POSTSCRIPT.

Indeed, for Rodil, a retired professor of History who has written much about Mindanao – its people and the Mindanao and Moro problems – and who has dissected these problems as author of Mindanao books, history teacher; as delegate to the Mindanao Consultative Assembly that drafted the original Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao together with Moro traditional leaders; and as member of the GRP Panel in the 1993-1996 GRP-MNLF negotiation and in the GRP-MILF negotiation until 2010, Pascual makes no sense.

Pascual, considering his circumstances, is expected to write better than he has done in his December 28 column – clarify a sensitive issue, not run amuck with his bias and perhaps ignorance, if not arrogance. Why be one among the many spoilers?

Publish the Proof

Pascual has joined the accuser’s side of the issue: That Malaysian third-person facilitator Datuk Othman is biased for the MILF and against the Philippine Government. Malaysia should change him or “quit pretending to be an honest broker”. Those are very serious accusations crying for concrete proofs for truth’s sake.

The present GRP Peace Panel led by Dean Marvic Leonen has failed to make public the evidence of their charges. Can Pascual enumerate in detail Othman’s bias based on the records of the negotiations from 2005 when Othman became facilitator until June 3, 2010 when the Government and the MILF last had their formal talk? Only by concrete proof on record can Othman be proven “biased” and Malaysia a “dishonest” facilitator [not “broker”. Pascual should know the difference between “facilitator” and “broker”].

Where can Pascual obtain the concrete proof? From Leonen! His panel has studied the records. Besides that, Rafael Seguis, the immediate past head of the GRP Peace Panel, must have given Leonen the details of Othman’s bias when he briefed Leonen’s panel about the bias. A lawyer like Leonen would surely not believe an accusation based on unproven assumption and take up the charge that could imperil the integrity of the Aquino government.

Is there a need and is it proper to make public the concrete proof inasmuch as the Aquino government has already diplomatically complained to the Malaysian government so the case is cloaked in diplomatic secrecy?

There is and it is proper. The case has been presented through the media to the Filipino public for it to judge. So the concrete proof by which to judge must also be presented. And, since Pascual has joined the accusers, as a journalist – if he is worth his salt as such – must, in echoing the assumptions, present the proof in his column. That is his challenge and responsibility.

Without sufficient proof, the accused is given the benefit of the doubt. The Malaysian prime minister is being criticized for sitting on the Philippine complaint against Othman. Why? It should be surmised that the evidence against Othman is insufficient and Prime Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak is waiting for more evidence. [Or, the complaint letter was wrongly coursed through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not through the Research Department of the Prime Minister’s Office, the GRP-MILF negotiation secretariat.]

Mental Honesty

How mentally honest is Pascual?

He labels Othman as a “super spy” who “cannot be objective” as facilitator. Othman is security adviser of the Prime Minister like the security adviser of our own President. Does that make him a super spy like the head of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) of the United States or the spy agencies of Russia and Israel?

He dismissed MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal’s statement, “Without a facilitator, how would the talks resume,” as an “as if” assumption that “the fate of Mindanao revolves around Malaysia”. If by “Mindanao” he means “Mindanao peace process or negotiation”, he is speaking out of ignorance; if he means “Mindanao” in general sense, his comment is irrelevant.

As the proverb says, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. To know the validity of Iqbal’s statement, why not sever Malaysia’s role as third-party facilitator?

That is exactly what Pascual is egging the Aquino government to do – calling as “basic error” the engagement of Malaysia as third-party facilitator by President Arroyo since: “The Mindanao problem is a domestic issue. It should not have been internationalized and opened to nosey neighbors and neo-imperialists.”

Is Pascual pretending not to know or is he really ignorant?

His statement above was one of the three “Basic Errors” high on “the legal and diplomatic scaffolding built carelessly by [Aquino’s] predecessors [meaning: Presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] in dealing with rebel groups”.

In stating the “basic errors”, he said with authority: “We have said this before and will say it again, louder, to rouse up whoever decides foreign policy.”

Is negotiating with rebels with foreign or international intervention – solicited or imposed condition — a foreign policy decision?

What were the two other “Errors”? The second: negotiating with the MILF (a band of rebels), giving them “an undeserved status of belligerency”; and, the third: failing to “ask the MILF to present credentials as the legitimate voice of the Muslim sector”.

Is it believable that Mr. Pascual does not know that the Moro or Muslim problem in Mindanao has been internationalized since President Marcos allowed the Organization of Islamic Conference to actively intervene in 1972? Did he tell President Ramos not to let the OIC facilitate the GRP-MNLF peace talk in Jakarta? Now he is telling President Aquino to tell the OIC to get off the GRP back. [Malaysia is an OIC member; the OIC is not only facilitating but arbitrating in the review of GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement.]

Of the second and third “Errors”, Mr. Pascual should confront President Ramos. It is unbelievable he does not know that it was President Ramos who invited the MILF to the peace talk in 1996. He should ask the two other living Presidents Estrada and Arroyo why they carried on the “Erros” of Ramos. Philippine Star readers will be enlightened on reading in his column the explanations of the three past Presidents.

Now he is suggesting President Aquino “go one step further” – thank “Malaysia for its role in the peace charade in Mindanao … suggest that it now quit pretending to be an honest broker and be replaced with a neutral party”.

What does Mr. Pascual mean by “neutral party”? If he means a foreign country, that is contrary to his position not to internationalize the Mindanao problem because it is a “domestic issue”. If he means a domestic group, where in the Philippines is that “neutral party”?

Mr. Pascual suggests the Aquino government “consider involving in a big way the democratically elected leaders of Muslim Mindanao” in the peace talks. When has Manila been honest with these “elected leaders” and when have these leaders been honest with the Moros who have elected them in resolving the Bangsamoro Problem?

May we ask Mr. Pascual for his honest answer: Does he want to resolve the Bangsamoro Problem with a political settlement or to let the military destroy Muslim communities as they rampage to annihilate the MILF like what Sri Lanka did with the Tamil Tigers?

The latter will likely happen if spoilers like Mr. Pascual were to have their ways – allowing them to run amuck with their bias.

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INCIDENTALLY, how we wish Mr. Leonen’s optimism would prevail over Mr. Iqbal’s skepticism concerning the resumption of the peace talk in January 2011 (MindaNews, December 29, 2010).

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