Malaysian ambassador on GRP-MILF talks: "don't worry"

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 December) –  December 14 , the last of the “possible dates”  for exploratory talks  proposed by government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen, has passed but Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel has yet to receive Leonen’s December 2 letter coursed through Kuala Lumpur, the talks facilitator.

But the Malaysian ambassador to the Philippine said there is nothing to worry about. “Everything is in good hands,” he told MindaNews Monday afternoon.

Communication between the Philippine government and MILF peace panels is through Malaysia, the third party facilitator since 2001.

The letter, handcarried by Leonen to Kuala Lumpur on December 2, was received by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Riot.

Earlier on Monday, Iqbal told MindaNews, “I think KL will not send it anymore,” reffering to Leonen’s December 2 letter. On December 18, he said, “KL has no communication. I have a feeling I wouldn’t receive it.” A day earlier, he said, “Maybe KL did not like how it was delivered. I don’t know. The signs are not good,” he said.

Leonen declined to comment but Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles last week said she had asked the Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines, Dato’ Seri Dr. Ibrahim Saad and was told he would check with KL.

MindaNews sought the ambassador for comment. “Don’t worry. Everything is in good hands, the peace negotiation will go on,” he told MindaNews in a text message Monday afternoon.

“Both governments (Philippines and Malaysia) are in the know. Let us give them a chance to move forward,” he said.

He declined to elaborate, saying only, in another message, “both governments are in the know, so let us leave it at that.”

On September 21,  Saad told a press conference in Cotabato City that Malaysia wants the conflict between the Philippine government and the MILF “settled as soon as possible.”

Leonen had suggested “December 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 as possible dates” for the exploratory talks intended “to address urgent concerns.”  Though he did not specify in his letter that Kuala Lumpur will be the venue, Leonen told MindaNews on December 5 that he was open to meeting with Iqbal in KL.

Iqbal said Leonen should have handed the letter to the office of the facilitator, Datuk Othman bin Razak at the Office of the Prime Minister-Research Department (OPM-RD) “which is in charge of the peace talks” or the Malaysian secretariat. The latter is lodged in the office of the OPM-RD.

“I don’t know how the letter will reach me. It’s too circuitous,” Iqbal said in a telephone interview on December 10. Ten days later, Iqbal had yet to receive Leonen’s letter.

Leonen had said Deputy Minister Riot who received the letter, would turn over the letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs who would then send it over to the Office of the Prime Minister.

Talks have run aground even before the two panels could sit across the negotiating table, on the issue of  retaining or replacing Othman. The government peace panel wants Othman replaced for alleged bias, the MILF wants him retained.

Civil society representatives, elated with the December 5 news on the exploratory talks expressed mixed feelings about the failure of the two panel chairs to meet.

“What happened between the much acclaimed negotiated political settlement pronouncement of P-Noy during his inaugural speech and the so-called openness to change the Constitution to buy peace in Mindanao and then the sudden step on the brakes? Now the peace panel could hardly even resume the talks as they start to question the facilitator, terms of reference of facilitation and the whole rules of the game. What letter? Where’s the letter? Even that plain messengerial function couldn’t seem to reach the addressee?  Was this a case of wrong post office?  What and who caused the sudden step on the brake with such a big  screech? Is there a deeper policy problem rather than the seeming glitch on technicality?,” Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus, said.

Lawyer Camilo “Bong” Montesa, former assistant secretary for Peacemaking at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and part of the government peace panel negotiating with the MILF for five years as legal and strategy adviser, sounded exasperated.

“I think that they should consider suspending the talks for a year (until 2012) and determine in the future whether there is really a need for it. It seems to me that there is no urgency. The current peace process is becoming more of a problem rather than part of the solution,” he said.

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Counciil of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and excecutive director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation, told MindaNews, “find out what happened to the letter. Where did it land? Why did the letter not reach Iqbal?”

Irene Santiago, a former member of the government panel negotiating with the MILF from 2001 to 2004, found the situation “ridiculous.”

“Malaysia is controlling the talks instead of facilitating it. The government and the MILF must now seriously consider what is to the best interest of our people who want a peace agreement sooner rather than later. Control of the talks must be in the hands of the negotiating parties. Perhaps naming another third party as facilitator – with clear terms of reference – is now in order.”

In his State of the Nation Address on July 26, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III had expressed hope that the peace negotiations would begin “after Ramadan.” Ramadan ended on September 9.

Leonen made public his December 2 visit to KL on December 5. He told MindaNews that the “urgent concerns” that need to be addressed by the two chairs during the exploratory talks are the facilitation issue and security guarantees, including the case of Engr. Eduard Guerra (passport name Abraham Yap Alonto) who was arrested on September 22 at the Davao International Airport en route to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The MILF Central Committee resolution on October 11, 2010 protested the arrest of Guerra, urged the dropping of charges against him and asked that he be released without delay.

The resolution also said Guerra, a member of the MILF Central Committee, is covered by the safety and security guarantees provided to MILF members who are directly and principally involved in the peace process.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Comments

comments