Christmas wish

Let the talks begin in this season of forgiveness and hope

The government appears to be painting itself into a corner in publicly raising the issue, and then insisting, on a change of facilitator in its planned resumption of peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to resolve the so-called Mindanao conflict.

It continues to ventilate its grievance via the media instead of finding a diplomatic way to resolve the thorny issue or going directly to the negotiations without this “pre-condition.”

Philippine Star columnist Jarius Bondoc, who was just appointed a few days ago to the board of a government sequestered company, was the latest to assail the Malaysian facilitator Datuk Othman din Abdul Razak. He wrote on December 17 that the facilitator marred the talks by “messing up ties” between Malaysia and the Philippines.

Former government panel adviser to the GRP-MNLF talks Fr. Eliseo Mercado, writing in his blog at on November 15, described Othman as the “obstacle” in the resumption of the peace talks for being “partisan.”

The following day, November 16, government panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen issued a media statement that they are seeking a replacement of Othman because they would have “difficulty” and “trouble working with him.”

This calibrated sniping on the facilitator, ergo on Malaysia, is a dangerous gambit. It depicts the government awkwardly as a petty party willing to gamble the early resumption of the peace talks and success of a political settlement of the Mindanao conflict on purely procedural matter that can be resolved in a dialogue at the negotiating table.

Moreover, instead of dealing directly with the Office of the Prime Minister, which has been handling the facilitation for almost a decade and where Othman is Head of its Research Department, the Philippine government panel preferred to coordinate with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, an entirely different office. In Malaysia it is a sign of disrespect to ignore one person or agency by dealing with another.

Thus, the December 2 hand-carried letter by Leonen to the Malaysian Foreign Ministry for the MILF panel chair for possible exploratory talks before December 14 has not reached its rightful recipient, Mohagher Iqbal (MILF to gov’t peace panel: Where is the letter?).

Former government chief negotiator Jesus Dureza had earlier described this paus fax as a big “mistake” opining on November 21 at that matters such as these should be “discussed behind closed doors without embarrassing or putting on the spot persons or institutions involved.

In contrasts, the MILF has taken a high moral ground on this issue that has pictured itself as the conscientious party in the peace talks. It has consistently stood by its positions that the facilitation issue can be taken up at the negotiating table, and the matter of facilitator is the call of the third party host, Malaysia, and not the panels’.

The government is wasting the political capital of the very popular Aquino administration, an essential ingredient in forging a political settlement, in insisting on its untenable position. It is a self-flagellation fit during the Lent and certainly not for Christmas.

All we want for this Yuletide, a season of Forgiveness and Hope, is Peace for Mindanao. Let the talks begin without any precondition!

Peter Lavina, Treasurer, Board of Trustees, Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM)

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Sorry for cross-posting this statement, not entirely related to the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International, but relevant this Christmas season.

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