PH wants another Malaysian facilitator in peace talks, not Zakaria

Government Peace Panel Chair Irene Santiago. File photo from OPPAP.

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) want Malaysia to nominate another facilitator in the peace process, government peace panel chair Irene Santiago said.

“Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid is not the new Malaysian Facilitator, Santiago said in a letter to VERA Files last Saturday. “The GPH and MILF Implementing Panels are still in the process of looking for the new Third Party Facilitator.”

VERA Files earlier reported that Zakaria’s nomination as facilitator had been accepted. Malaysia officially informed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) of the appointment of Zakaria as the new GPH-MILF Peace Process facilitator in a letter dated Oct. 18, 2016. The Philippines then had no objections.

“It is true that the participation of Malaysia as Third Party Facilitator was reaffirmed by both GPH Panel Implementing Chair Irene M. Santiago and MILF Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal in a letter dated 4 January 2017 addressed to the Director of the Malaysian Secretariat of the GPH-MILF Peace Process,” Santiago said.

She said VERA Files left out a crucial statement in that letter which reiterated “that upon consultations with the Parties’ principals, the request for a new Facilitator supersedes the Parties’ prior acknowledgment of Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid as Third Party Facilitator.”

A diplomatic source said that in November the Philippines’ National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General Alex Monteagudo informed the Malaysian side that the Philippine government would no longer accept the Malaysian facilitator but would want the Malaysian International Monitoring Team (IMT) to continue.

There has been no facilitator in the talks between the government and the MILF since the last facilitator, Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mohamed, passed away on Sept. 2, 2016. Zakaria is the choice of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.

“Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Ab. Hamid had been chosen based on his wide knowledge and experience in the peace process…The Prime Minister of Malaysia also firmly believes that Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Ab. Hamid would be neutral as the new facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process,” said Malaysia’s October 18 notice to OPAPP on Zakaria’s appointment.

Sources say some quarters are objecting to the nomination of Zakaria, who was director-general of the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department in 2001, when he signed an order effectively turning over Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari to the Philippine government. Misuari was then seeking refuge in Malaysia to evade rebellion charges.

Interestingly, days before Duterte’s visit to Malaysia last November, Misuari was in Malacañang pledging his support for Duterte’s quest for federalism and peace in Mindanao.

And it was hours before the Nov. 10 bilateral meeting of Duterte and Najib when the Malaysian side was informed that the Philippines and MILF were not keen on having the Malaysian facilitator at this stage of the peace process. The Duterte government wants the MILF, MNLF and all indigenous groups to converge under a more inclusive and transparent peace process.

Malaysia, which has brokered talks since 2001, has been criticized for taking part in the peace process, given the Philippines’ long-standing claim on parts of Sabah, which is occupied by Malaysia.

The first facilitator was Datuk Othman Abd Razak, an appointee of former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. A source said that Othman then was replaced as GPH felt he was “biased and was helping the MILF more rather than helping achieve peace in Mindanao.”

After 15 years of talking peace with the MILF, a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was signed October 15, 2012 and the CAB on March 27, 2014. It provided for the creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that would draft the BBL and would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro,” to replace the ARMM.

But the 16th Congress under the Aquino administration failed to pass the BBL. Under the new government, the process resumed with the drawing up of a Bangsamoro peace roadmap. Duterte will reconstitute the new and expanded BTC this month by naming 21 members, including MNLF leader Muslimin Sema. The new BTC is expected to finish the draft BBL by July 2017.