Peace Advocates Brand Esperon’s Appointment as Peace Czar ‘Ironic, Tragic, and Outrageous’

Senators, human rights, and peace advocates questioned the appointment of former AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon as Peace Adviser. Inpeace Mindanao called it “ironic, tragic, and outrageous.”

Vol. VIII, No. 16, May 25-31, 2008

Opposition senators, human rights and peace advocates raised a chorus of protest and painted a bleak future of the peace process with the appointment of former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon as the new Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Esperon retired from the AFP on May 9 – three months after reaching the age of 56, the mandatory retirement age from military service. (He was to retire on Feb. 9, but the Arroyo administration extended his term for another three months.)

After his retirement, the Arroyo administration wasted no time in appointing him to the top post at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). He replaces Jesus Dureza, a former journalist, who was reappointed as Press Secretary.

Esperon has been criticized, notably by Caloocan City Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, for his “anti-peace image.”

His appointment to the OPAPP comes on the heels of the informal talks held by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on May 13-15 in Oslo.

According to NDFP Negotiating Panel chairman Luis Jalandoni, the purpose of the meeting in Oslo was “(to find) ways of resuming the formal meetings of the negotiating panels in GRP-NDFP peace negotiations in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration.” In that meeting, the NDFP presented 13 impediments to the resumption of the peace negotiations, among them the “terrorist” listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison; the illegal “suspension” of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG); Oplan Bantay Laya I and II and the consequent gross and systematic violations of human rights; the persecution, murder, arrest and enforced disappearance of NDFP consultants; the demand for capitulation of the NDFP to the GRP in the guise of prolonged ceasefire before addressing the fundamental problems of Philippine society and the roots of the armed conflict; and the failure to indemnify the victims of human rights violations under the Marcos regime.

Esperon’s appointment to the OPAPP also comes shortly after Malaysia, which facilitates the peace negotiations between the GRP and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), pulled out its delegates from the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of agreements in relation to the talks, as well as the implementation of development projects in the areas of conflict.

Malaysian facilitator Othman Abdul Razak was reported as having issued a statement on May 3 blaming the GRP for the continuing impasse in its peace negotiations with the MILF.

The GRP-MILF peace talks hit a snag in December last year, after the GRP panel insisted that the MILF’s ancestral land claim be subjected to “constitutional processes.”

The MILF has criticized Esperon’s appointment to the OPAPP as “an indication of the growing militarization of the Arroyo administration, including the peace process.”

“Military men are trained to fight, not to negotiate,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Negotiating Panel.

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