In a statement sent to MindaNews, Amina Rasul of the Philippine Council for Islam and Development, said Esperon’s appointment as peace process adviser “shows that Mrs. Arroyo is either controlled by the military or is completely insincere about the peace process (or both).”
“General Esperon, as the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines until recently, was adamant about crushing the communist and Moro insurgencies as well as terrorism. Today, we are asked to believe that the general has had a change of heart with the change in his position,” Rasul said.
She cited the retired general’s role as commander of the 602nd Infantry Brigade during the all out campaign implemented by then President Joseph Estrada against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“He led his troops in many victorious but bloody skirmishes in dismantling of the MILF camp in Rajamuddah at the Liguasan marsh complex in (2000). He also led troops in Basilan against the feared Abu Sayyaf Group. Are we to believe that this man whose career was built on a foundation of war would suddenly trade in his sword for a plowshare?” she added.
Amirah Lidasan, president of Suara Bangsamoro party-list, said they “strongly oppose” Esperon’s assignment because of his “track record on human rights violations of activists who became victims of extrajudicial killings under Oplan Bantay Laya and the Moro people, many of hwom were tortured during the 2001 Abu Sayyaf crackdown in Basilan under his 103rd IB.”
“There is no room for peace in OPAPP when a hawk sits there as adviser and you cannot expect no fruitful negotiations with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), and NDF (National Democratic Front) with an Arroyo henchman at the OPAPP.
In an article posted today in its website luwaran.com, the MILF called Esperon and Dureza the “same banana.”
“It is the policy of government that matters in the outcome of peace talks, not personalities,” Luwaran quoted Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel and of its committee on information, as having said.
Iqbal said it is government’s sincerity in forging a negotiated settlement to the Mindanao problem that counts.
He cited the case of Secretary Silvestre Afable, peace panel chair from 2003 to 2007, “who enjoyed very good credibility with the MILF but did not deliver much because the policy of the government is not for the genuine resolution of the conflict.”
Far from praising Malacanang on Esperon’s appointment, Iqbal called it an indication of the growing militarization of the Arroyo administration, including the peace process.
Development worker Milet Mendoza, formerly of Tabang Mindanaw who earlier worked at the OPAPP and National Unification Commission, said, “the appointments of ex military and politicians to OPAPP defeats the very essence of its nature. A party to conflict (including ex) and people with vested political interest to protect have no place in OPAPP. OPAPP has long ceased to serve its purpose. It has made a mockery of its existence.”
Gus Miclat, executive director of the Initiatives for International Development (IID) says his “knee jerk reaction” would be similar to what the protesters are saying. “But if I would give this a cynic’s benefit of doubt, who knows the general might just turn out to be like if not better than Gen. (Rodolfo) Garcia (the current government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF).”
But that, he said, Esperon “has to prove and might even be his legacy.”
“Sometimes former soldiers become doves when they are given a new prism and fresh perspective to see things. But his very fresh track record does not bode well, but for the sake of peace, I’ll never say never even on this one.”
The other day, Father Roberto Layson, who was parish priest of Pikit in North Cotabato, a town that experienced four wars from 1997 to 2003, one of that – the 2002 war, under Esperon as battalion commander – said, “as for Esperon, I know that he was the one who drafted the ground rules for the ground commanders regarding the directive of (President Arroyo) on the primacy of the peace process with the MILF. I hope he will continue to promote it as the new OPAPP Secretary." (MindaNews)