WHILE the nosy television anchors are always quick to catch President Benigno C. Aquino III in a date, this very big one caught them all unaware – the secret meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Haj Murad in a hotel in Tokyo, Japan last Saturday.
This despite a hint already given by the MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in July when he said something about downplaying the government’s ‘grand gesture’ until we receive their rejoinder draft.
As expected, the critiques of the President were already flaying him even before he arrived from his secret meeting, among them Senator Francis Escudero who said the move could have been ill-advised because Murad “is not even the President’s counterpart” in the peace talks, as if the President has a counterpart in the MILF when he is the President of the Philippines, MILF people included.
Turning to Secretary for the Peace Process Teresita Deles, Escudero went on to say, ““She (Deles) should just do her job and give her president deniability with respect to these early stages of the negotiations.” Again, as if Aquino is not the President of Deles.
The secret meeting, however, is more popular in Mindanao where the talks really matter and any gesture of sincerity is welcomed, protocols be damned.
GRP chief negotiator Marvic Leonen in a Facebook entry wrote: “To answer the pending question (Why did the GRP panel defer to submit a counter-proposal [to the MILF’s draft peace negotiation proposal]?), it is because both panels agreed to a meeting between the President and the Chair of the MILF. There were a lot of risks attendant to its preparation and we decided that it was better that we absorb criticism rather than miss a historic opportunity. Could you imagine what might have happened if we made premature announcements? For the government panel, we deferred submission because we believed that there was this historic opportunity. Our concept, proposal and agenda to move forward will be submitted during the next scheduled talks enlightened by the conversation between the President and Chair Murad.”
“This is a good development. It shows that this administration is seriously pursuing peace.” -- Vic Lao, Mindanao Business Council.
“Something positive, praying his understanding on the issue of internal conflict will deepen. I hope the context is not cooption but genuine lasting peace. It has to start somewhere. The cooption similar to MNLF, it did not bring about peace.” -- Dr. Jean Lindo, convenor of Network Opposed to Coal – Davao.
"It's okay, because neutral ground yun compared to Malaysia." -- Senior Superintendent Pedro Cabatingan, regional head of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)
"It shows that the president is very sincere in forging a peace agreement with the MILF for the good of the country especially herein Mindanao." -- Commodore Philip Cacayan of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao (NFEM)
"The president is really going the extra mile for peace." -- Colonel Leopoldo Galon Jr., spokesperson of the Southern Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom)
"I think the government must do or resort to all available means favorable to the government, to attain peace here in Mindanao." -- Senior Supt. Florencio T. Ortilla, commander of the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) 11.
"It is a political and personal decision again. That is over and above the military, though he is the commander in chief. We are just hoping for the best, it is an extra ordinary way of showing the government's sincerity to the peace process." -- Major Jacob Thaddeus Obligado, commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division's Civil Military Operation (CMO)
“It’s a welcome development which indicates that at the very least both the GPH and MILF are still looking towards the peace negotiation as a means to resolve the issue. However, we hope this meeting translates into concrete action which means that the GPH panel must submit its clear counter proposal to the MILF compare compact when they meet this August.” -- Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) Peace Talks Officer Abdul Malik Cleofe
“The meeting is a highest level confidence building gesture on the part of GPH and MILF which hopefully will fast tract the peace talks to a mutually acceptable peace road map for Mindanao.” – Regional Prosecutor Antonio Arellano
“It’s an indication that the current administration is serious in resolving the armed conflict in Mindanao.” -- Regional Director of Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB) Lawyer Miguel T. Palma Gil
“That’s good news especially to us Mindanaoans!” – Davao City chief prosecutor Raul B. Bendigo
“This is a very promising development in the GRP-MILF negotiations. Stil, everybody should learn from the lessons of the past, namely that GRP did not deliver on many things covered by its peace accord with the MNLF, and that such agreement did not prevent the formation of another rebel group such as the MILF.” -- Tony Ajero, business paper publisher.
“Now that PNOy did another ‘grand gesture’ for the sake of peace, there is no reason why he can’t extend the same gesture to the talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF). He can probably start by accelerating the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including the Moro Pol Prisoners. He can also meet up with the leadership of the NDF to find ways to move forward the talks … if PNOy can’t extend the same gestures to the other half of the peace process coin, then hi meeting with the MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ibrahim can be interpreted as just a ploy, just a part of the strategy to cooperate the MILF, neutralize it so that the government can concentrate on its plan of defeating the NDF process.” -- Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, convenor of Alliance against Impunity – Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (AIM-UPLM)
“Gipadali ug dikta kini sa impe nga nasud particular the US para sa economic interest nila sa mga lugar kun diin ginasakpan nga mga lugar sa MILF (This is nothing but a dictation by the imperialist United States to forward their interests over the territories of the MILF.” -- Cora Espinosa, Gabriela chairperson
“It is vivid that P-Noy aims to fast track the negotiation not for the interest achieving just and lasting peace in Mindanao but of powerful countries who have been salivating on the rich natural resources of Mindanao. This is to push through P-Noy their economic interests over Liguasan Marsh and many parts of Mindanao.” -- Franchie Buhayan, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)