POSTSCRIPT / December 28, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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High time gov’t stood up to MILF

NASUGBU, Batangas — Malacanang must not waver in its move to have the Malaysian chief of intelligence replaced as facilitator in the government’s peace negotiations with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Kuala Lumpur’s security chief Datuk Othman bin Abd’ Razak is widely perceived in intelligence circles as biased for the MILF. By his title and job description alone, this super spy cannot be objective.

President Noynoy Aquino should even go one step further. After “thanking” Malaysia for its role in the peace charade in Mindanao, he could suggest that it now quit pretending to be an honest broker and be replaced with a neutral party.

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FACILITATOR?: The Palace can ignore the MILF’s self-serving warning that the stalled peace talks will not push through in January, as Manila wants, unless Othman stayed as the facilitator.

“Without a facilitator, how would the talks resume?” asked Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF negotiating panel as if the fate of Mindanao revolves around the Malaysian.

But how can honest discussions be held while Othman stands in the corner of the MILF?

President Aquino should also reject plans to hold the next round of talks in Kuala Lumpur. Since discussions will center on domestic issues, the logical venue is the Philippines.

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BASIC ERRORS: It is high time President Aquino dismantled the legal and diplomatic scaffolding built carelessly by his predecessors in dealing with rebel groups.

We have said this before and will say it again, louder, to rouse up whoever decides foreign policy:

*The Mindanao problem is a domestic issue. It should not have been internationalized and opened to nosey neighbors and neo-imperialists.

* The glaring imbalance at the table should be corrected. The Republic is being made to sit opposite a band of rebels, giving them, the MILF, an undeserved status of belligerency.

* The government should first ask the MILF to present credentials as the legitimate voice of the Muslim sector. The rebels’ claim to legitimacy is nothing but a blast out of the bloody barrel of the gun.

* * *

LEGIT LEADERS: If the MILF refuses to talk without its Othman, stop negotiating with those secessionists masquerading as a liberation front.

Then consider involving in a big way the democratically elected leaders of Muslim Mindanao. Give them – together with people’s organizations — a voice and a vote in the talks.

Aside from demanding to see its credentials as the legitimate representative of the Muslim minority, the government should also check if these MILF characters are Filipinos or if they consider themselves Filipinos.

In tackling domestic issues, there is a substantial difference between talking with fellow citizens and tangling with foreigners.

* * *

FILIPINO SILA?: This citizenship issue should have been raised when the earlier PHL-MILF Memorandum of Agreement for the carving out of a separate Bangsamoro in the MinSuPala region was questioned before the Supreme Court.

Nobody in this government crawling with lawyers dared to ask the MILF signatories to the MoA what their citizenship was, if they recognized the Constitution and if they were ready to accept the judgment of the High Court.

The MILF rebels, who were not directly engaged although they were a key party to the MoA in question, were left free to ignore the SC decision.

They did not only disregard the SC ruling that slapped down their quest for a separate Moro state. They sent their warriors rampaging in innocent villages, drawing blood and sowing terror.

* * *

REACTIONS: Media friends called me here (some texted) to say that I kicked a hornet’s nest with my suggestion that – if only out of fairness — people who engage in a public debate identify themselves.

It seems that my remarks were misunderstood, even twisted, by a few readers. Now I may have to clarify, although doing so will not stop the flood of reactions pro or con.

Actually I expected negative reflex reactions, especially from the stable of strategic communicators paid to crank up stinging repartee to media reports and comments that the boss may not relish.

There was no attempt or desire in my Postscript last Sunday to muzzle free speech. Far from it. As a working newspaperman of long standing, I will be first to defend citizens’ rights to speak up.

* * *

COWARDICE: I am not interested in ferreting out identities of bloggers, but I am convinced that clear authorship is one way of discouraging irresponsible discharge of verbal weapons.

I can look after myself. But when the next guy gets hurt, he must have a way of identifying his tormentor and availing himself of the remedies in law. That is possible if the person behind the malicious and malevolent attack is identified and located.

I find it cowardly for people to recklessly hit others while hiding behind an alias or an impersonal user-name. The author should be man enough to stand by what he says. He should identify himself.

* * *

FROM THE DARK: I suggested proper identification not for my security and comfort. I have no problem with readers who disagree with me even to the point of being disagreeable.

This scarred journalist can take it. I do not need extraordinary protection from detractors and strategic bloggers. In fact, sometimes I deliberately provoke readers to react and speak up on a burning issue.

While there are hecklers and strategic email/texting brigades, most readers of my Postscript react in good faith. I value their interest and I stand ready to defend their right to express their thoughts.

Still, I insist that a victim of a malicious posting should have a way of knowing who did him harm — so he can defend himself properly from shadowy figures who stick knives and fling mud from the dark.

My comments here will not close the discussion, I know, but I now rest my case.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 28, 2010)

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