POSTSCRIPT / March 4, 2010 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Last-ditch Mindanao talks in KL are futile

PROSPECTS DIM: At the reckless rate the Arroyo administration is racing toward a negotiated peace in Mindanao in the last four months of its term, the prospects of its achieving a constitutional settlement with secessionists are dim, if not nil.

The international monitoring team nosing around in Mindanao might even metamorphose into a United Nations peacekeeping force if a Moro war of liberation with foreign backing erupts when the usual secessionist forces challenge a new administration.

The most that the Malacanang negotiating team being dispatched to Kuala Lumpur can coax from the wily Moro rebels is a press-release ceasefire and modus vivendi — not a far-reaching peace settlement — until the next administration takes over.

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REASONS TO FAIL: Some of the reasons why the current last-ditch peace effort will fail:

* The government insists on negotiating with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, although the group cannot present a document showing it represents the peace-loving majority in Muslim Mindanao. What it waves is an endorsement (!) from the US President.

* Rebel leaders cannot categorically say what they are and what/who they represent. Malacanang has not determined if it is negotiating with fellow Filipinos who abide by the same Constitution or with foreigners.

* Malaysia, which is not an objective observer, has been allowed to lead the so-called multi-nation monitoring team. A more disinterested non-Muslim team leader should head foreign observers.

* The government has neglected to nip the internationalization of the domestic conflict. As a result, a number of Muslim nations and liberation fronts elsewhere have thrown their support for the Moro fighters. Even the United States looks kindly on them.

* The MILF demand for a separate Bangsamoro state, in effect dismembering what President Arroyo used to refer to as the Strong Republic, is unacceptable to most Filipinos.

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TRAVEL SEASON: The arrival last Sunday of a dominantly military 17-man Malaysian monitoring group in Mindanao should be cause for alarm — not elation.

The departure of Philippine officials for Kuala Lumpur to compare notes with MILF negotiators and their Malaysian coaches is dismaying. Documents can be exchanged more easily and cheaply using the usual diplomatic channels of the embassies, so why the junket?

This desperate dash of Malacanang for peace in Mindanao is futile – unless the secret objective is just to produce a high-sounding communique calling for a ceasefire during an election campaign where the administration is an underdog.

Unable to piece together anything better, the Arroyo administration may be happy just having the MILF, a high-profile rebel band in Mindanao, announce to the world that it has agreed to stop fighting (pssst, in the meantime).

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FINAL TEAM: The quality of the Cabinet team assisting President Arroyo prepare for a graceful exit is crucial in tying administrative loose ends, consolidating legacy projects, fending off political sniping, and smoothing out rough edges in her image.

President Arroyo has named new Cabinet members to replace those who resigned after the Supreme Court ruled that appointive officials running for office were deemed resigned as of March 2.

Among them was Solicitor General Alberto Agra, named as acting justice secretary to take over the post left by Agnes Devanadera who is running for a congressional seat in Quezon.

Agra will have his hands full as he also heads the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel aside from being OSG and DoJ chief. Overburdening him may not be good for the service.

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TRUE AND TESTED: President Arroyo need not look far to get a good full-time justice secretary. There is Justice Undersecretary Ernesto Pineda, who has been serving the department well for more than five years now.

Among all contenders, Pineda is the most prepared and knowledgeable about the objectives and vision of the department. In fact, during the many times when then Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez went on leave, the DoJ was left in the care of Pineda as officer-in-charge.

This former dean of the College of Law and Graduate School of Law of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila is the choice of the National Prosecutions’ League of the Philippines, which recommended him to the President.

A 1983 Papal Awardee, Pineda is known in the bar and bench for his integrity, competence and unsullied reputation. This native of Sto. Tomas, Pampanga, is a noted law professor and bar reviewer in several law colleges. He has authored 14 legal books used in various universities.

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PUNCHING BAG: Pampanga Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio need not use President Arroyo as punching bag in his campaign to retain his seat that is in danger of being grabbed by former provincial board member Lilia “Baby” Pineda.

Among Ed told a media crowd yesterdays in Greenhills, San Juan, that Ms Arroyo would not be a good congresswoman in the second district of Pampanga, where she is running, because she would be busy answering corruption charges.

The problem of the priest-turned-politician is not how Ms Arroyo will fare, but how he himself will be judged by his cabalen on his management of provincial affairs the last three years and how he can retain his seat.

After a recount showed him to have lost in 2007, the second division of the Commission on Elections ordered Panlilio to turn over his office to Pineda, who had protested that votes cast for “Nanay Baby” (one of her registered names) were not counted.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 4, 2010)

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