Thursday, July 1, 2010

Corruption in the peace department (3)

THIS PIECE ENDS THE THREE-PART SERIES ON my interview with former Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (PAPP) Annabelle Abaya and her disclosures on the alleged corruption that she discovered in the OPAPP.

Abaya served for eight months as the sixth PAPP. I don’t know Abaya personally. She is not a personal friend or acquaintance. I have no reason to promote her agenda. What I know about her is that she is experienced in conflict resolution. She finished her master’s degree in public administration at the Kennedy School at Harvard University and also has a master’s degree in dispute resolution from the University of Massachusetts. She did her doctoral program in conflict resolution at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy.

Abaya is considered to be a person of integrity and courage by those who know her personally. She is also an experienced communicator, having served as spokesperson of the Ramos administration.
I received quite a number of revealing and even emotional reactions from readers (shock, tears, anger, more disclosures) to Abaya’s revelations. Only one questioned her motives (making “pa-guapa” to newly sworn in President Noynoy Aquino, as in, why only now?). Whatever Abaya’s motives were, what is better, that she revealed what she knew or just kept quiet? Aren’t we better off that we know?
I received a letter of explanation from her predecessor, retired Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr. which I will forward to the Letters section. Teresita “Ging” Quintos Deles, PAPP during the Arroyo administration who resigned in 2005, is coming back as PAPP in the Aquino administration.

But I will say it again, I have heard of corruption in the OPAPP, not yesterday but way back. I know of a few who had resigned in disgust. Talk of peacemakers transmogrifying into moneymakers. There are those who say the office should be disbanded and the funds be instead poured into poverty alleviation projects that could help bring about peace.

Here is the rest of the Abaya interview (compressed):

Q. How did people take the shake-up?

A. People were relieved that those associated with the difficulties of OPAPP were out. I was careful not to put a stamp of judgment on them since I think that as human beings, they deserve dignity and have a right to defend themselves. The directors and officers spent time to talk to those whom we had to let go because they did not fit the bill. Separating people is always painful and excruciating. We tried to handle this with maximum compassion.

Q. Looks like OPAPP had been in a cancerous state.

A. I assure you OPAPP is in remission. Reforms are needed so it does not slide back. In my short stint, I couldn’t “inflict” more reforms without creating unbearable instability. But OPAPP is now poised for transformation. It will be a progressive, strong and highly effective team. I can see it already.

Q. You revived relations with peace partners.

A. When I first called for a meeting of peace partners, only 14 people showed up. I was told that they had not been actively engaged since the time of Chair Haydee Yorac in the 1990s. We campaigned hard for forums not just to inform them about what was going on but to ask for proposals for peace projects. About 500 people from 250 organizations came, including non-traditional peace partners.

Q. Are people basically suspicious of peace efforts?

A. People were suspicious of the sincerity on both sides living up to agreements, the appropriateness of Malaysia as mediator because of our unresolved border dispute with them, and initially the timing of dialogues. Skeptics imagined that the dialogues were election related.

Q. Any advice for the new government?

A. I am uncomfortable giving unsolicited advice but the transition process requires us to give recommendations. First, on the Mindanao challenge. It will be most helpful to encourage the OIC on its initiative to help unify the MNLF and MILF and other Islamic groups in Mindanao. Then ask Indonesia to continue the splendid job of mediating the peace. Second, relentlessly pursue dialogues and civic engagements until a consensus emerges on the critical issues on the table. While people want a definitive end state, the reality, given our polarized and emotional views at this time, requires that we shape the future as we go along depending on what the people are prepared for. Peace is a journey, not a destination.

Q. Will peace ever reign in Mindanao?

A. Peace is inevitable. Everyone wants it, especially the ordinary people who simply want to exercise their livelihood, go to school, live normal lives. It requires a lot of patience. Anyone who knows peace understands that it is for the courageous and for the long haul. Thus we must act with dispatch today and visualize that peace is almost here. In reality, peace and security are already on the ground. With ceasefire agreements in place, we only need to stabilize this with a political settlement-whether interim or comprehensive and provide greater capacity for our Bangsamoro brothers to lead and govern, bring development and growth to their highly deprived areas, and give them control over their culture and destiny as Filipinos.

Q. Will there be peace when an agreement is signed?

A. People attach so much to a peace agreement. Will signing a marriage contract guarantee that you will live happily ever after? A peace agreement, like marriage, is something you negotiate for the rest of your life. You keep working at it to make it better every day.