Calling Peace Mindanao Peace Mediators to Account II: The Mediator's Accountability

By: Atty. Zainudin S. Malang, (LL.M., M.R.I., J.D.)

(Part II – The Mediator’s Accountability)

In the first part of this article, I said that the mediator has two roles: first, is to facilitate the protagonists coming to an agreement on how to resolve their conflict; and; second, making sure that each party lives up to their end of the agreement. Parties that have been at odds with each other and taken diametrically opposed positions, so much so that they are willing to kill and die for their respective “mandates”, cannot be expected to stop fighting without the intervention of a third party.

A mediator is required to cajole, urge, and prod the warring parties to settle their differences peacefully. Since each would have a different conception of how the conflict started – imagine an exchange between two siblings as to who started the fight where one would point to the other and say “Siya nauna eh” who will then retort “Hindi! Siya ang nauna” – the mediator is also expected to help the parties come to a common understanding of how it all began. Thereafter, it will help them draft an agreement addressing the roots of their dispute.

Even after a peace agreement is arrived at, the mediator’s job does not stop. This is when the mediator’s second role kicks in. Protagonists who have trained their guns against each other cannot be expected on their own to faithfully stick to their end of the bargain. The mutual suspicion, animosity, mutual recrimination, one-upmanship, etc. brought about by decades of fighting are psychological baggage that cannot be erased overnight. Hence, you need a neutral mediator to perform the oversight function of making sure that the protagonists live up to their commitments.

As for the necessity of being neutral, we only need to look at what normally happens during basketball games when a referee is perceived to be biased in favor of one of the teams. Usually, such games end up in a fracas, in a fight, in a riot. All of these are basic stuff for anyone who has taken a seminar on conflict resolution.

So, going back to my questions in the first part of this article: Why did the ’96 Peace Agreement fail? Under whose watch did it fail? Besides the signatories themselves, who dropped the ball in settling the Mindanao conflict?

As I have said earlier, the OIC has delegated the role of mediating the Mindanao conflict and facilitating the MNLF-GRP talks to the Committee of the Eight (erstwhile Six). Of the members of this committee, the one who has taken the lead is Indonesia. Libya is also a very influential member.

When the emissary from the OIC Secretary-General’s office visited Mindanao last year to see for himself how the implementation of the agreement was going along, he spoke before leaders of Mindanao’s civil society. During the open forum, I took the opportunity to ask him to assess the OIC’s 30-year involvement in helping resolve the conflict which has thus far led to more than 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees. Of course, an honest answer from him would have been an admission of the mediator’s failure given the dismal peace and development situation on the ground. But of course, he could not make that admission in public. It would have been too embarrassing. The poor fellow could only quizzically look at the members of the Committee of the Eight, particularly Indonesia, who were also present in the hope that maybe they can help him answer the question. Unfortunately, the Indonesian envoy could only look down on the floor. So the Sec-Gen’s emissary ended up spending 10 minutes discussing generalities about the conflict and how difficult it is to resolve. Reminders from others who took the microphone after me that he did not actually answer my question were to no avail.

A few months after the fact-finding visit of the OIC Sec-Gen’s emissary, I had another opportunity to ask the same question. This time it was an envoy from Indonesia, a key player in facilitating the agreement as I understand from the introduction given about him. He was here to attend a testimonial dinner organized by the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) and funded by Konrad Adenauer Foundation and United Nations Development Program. Again, there was an open forum and this time, after pointing out that while we have the luxury of holding the forum at the plush Mandarin Hotel in Makati, the people of the Bangsamoro are still wallowing in misery 10 years after the peace agreement, I asked him to assess Indonesia’s involvement as mediator. As I had expected, the answer was evasive.

(Part III next week - Asking the Hard Questions)