OPAPP hosts Ist International Mediators’ Dialogue

March 28, 2010 11:42 pm 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, March 28 -– A no-holds-barred exchange of views among key players in the peace process highlighted the first Roundtable Dialogue with International Mediators that tackled Saturday varied issues — ranging from thinking out of the box to overcoming impasses during peace negotiations to keep the talks going.

The daylong dialogue, a brainchild of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Annabelle T. Abaya, was held at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel in Pasay City.

The conference was the first of its kind in the Philippines. It was hosted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) under the supervision of the Peace Research and Development Center (PRDC) headed by Director Renia Corocoto, to push the peace process upfront.

The discussions were facilitated by Prof. Nieves Confesor, chair of the Panel negotiating with the CPP/NPA/NDF; David Gorman of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, and Prof. Abhoud Asyed Lingga of the Mindanao State University.

The resource speakers who gave their thoughts on what qualities made a good mediator, overcoming impasses, and mediating identity-based conflicts were Peruvian Ambassador Alvaro de Soto, a former ranking official of the United Nations who led in the negotiations that produced far-reaching reforms that ended the 10-year war in El Salvador; Martin Griffiths, founding director of the Henry Dunant Centre for Human Dialogue, and Ms. Mojanku Gumbi, former special adviser to South African ex-President Thabo Mbeki. Gumbi was also a key negotiator in the resolution of conflicts in Lesotho, Demoratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire and Zimbabwe, as well as in the management of political challenges n Hait, Iran, Sudan, Mauritania, Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Rwanda, Central African Republic and many others.

They all pointed out the importance that a facilitator must be impartial in his dealing with both sides to avoid the negotiations from hitting a snag as much as possible.

Datuk Othman Bin Abd Razak, Malaysian facilitator in the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), also participated as a resource speaker in the forum.

The Philippine government and the MILF resumed recently peace negotiations to find a just and genuine solution to the Mindanao conflict that has claimed the lives of over 150,000 people, not to mention the tens of thousands wounded and displaced from their homes.

The talks broke down in August 2008 following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).

Aside from holding peace negotiation with the MILF, the government is also reaching out its hand to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF) to go back to the negotiating table since formal peace talks bogged down in 2005 after they were tagged as terror group by the United States and the European Union (EU).

During the free-wheeling discussion, De Soto said that a mediator must be acceptable and trusted by both parties for the talks to move on.

A mediator must have the “capacity to distinguish interests from positions and propaganda and be able to recognize concessions,” he said, adding that “a mediator must have empathy to guide the talk” to be aware of “what is happening on the ground and also on the table.”

De Soto also said that a mediator must have the quality of constantly looking ahead and once an agreement is reached, have the readiness to implement it.

Another quality is that a mediator must be dispassionate “to address grievances and this requires more empathic skills,” he said.

For Ms. Gumbi, a mediator “must have no do’s and don’ts and has the ability to distinguish issues from non-issues” and must know how to define them and the problems that revolved.

On the other hand, Griffiths said former heads of state like ex-President Fidel V. Ramos and former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, among other eminent persons, can make very good mediators if they are tapped.

Griffiths also pointed out that talking must be pursued in every possible way.

“If you don’t keep moving forward, keep talking to your enemy,” pointing to back-channeling as very useful.

Gumbi supported Griffiths’ proposal.

“Keep talking because there is no better time to talk than during an impasse. Allow people to reflect, change the process. Another way to break the impasse is to bring a new idea and talk to more experienced people,” Gumbi added.

From her experience, Gumbi said that when both parties are “closer to the solution, the more difficult the talk becomes.”

For his part, Gorman said that one technique to break the impasse is “to keep the bicycle (moving) or get to the hoop, but cautioned against prolonged dribbling of the ball as it can cause fatigue."

But Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis pointed out the need to be creative to break the impasse and to unite as a people and not to divide the country.

Seguis cited the need for a peace agreement because going to war is very costly.

Professor Abhoud Sayed Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies cited the need to address the valid grievances of the MILF to bring out peace in Mindanao.

Two members of the MILF Secretariat, Mike Pasigan and Muhajirin Ali, expressed their appreciation for being invited to the forum and learning the techniques used by mediators.

Abaya said she was gratified with the outcome of the dialogue, citing the importance of understanding the process and the techniques employed by mediators, especially in the light of ongoing peace processes, with the MNLF and CPP/NPA/NDF, being mediated by Malaysia, Indonesia and Norway. (PNA) scs/RBC/rsm


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