Malaysia’s role in the peace process

MANILA, Philippines–The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is dead but the Mindanao peace process is still alive. A major player that keeps this process moving is Malaysia. It chairs the international team that monitors the peace talks. Team members include Libya, Brunei and Japan. All of them, except Japan, have sent soldiers to help maintain the Mindanao peace. Japan is represented by a civilian reconstruction expert.

Malaysian political landscape. A Muslim federated state and a fellow member of the Philippines in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Malaysia is considered a friend of both the GRP and the MILF. That is why the signing of the MOA, timely stopped by the Supreme Court, was scheduled in Kuala Lumpur (KL) last Aug. 5. And why the Philippines had to report officially to the Malaysian officialdom that it junked the MOA and adopted the new policy of disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation.

About that time (Aug. 1-3), I was—along with some others—in Penang, Malaysia to attend functions of the Asean Law Association (ALA). Penang is an island state in the Malaysian federation, connected by a four-lane (two more lanes are being added), six-kilometer bridge to the mainland. In between sessions, I learned of the changing political landscape in that country. Most informative was my conversation with Lim Guan Eng, chief minister of Penang.

He correctly predicted the stunning landslide victory of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in the parliamentary “by-election” last Aug. 26. Jailed for six years on charges of corruption and sodomy, Anwar (who was just released) was again indicted with a similar sex charge. Meantime, this by-election was called because his wife Wan Aziza, who held his parliamentary seat during his imprisonment, resigned to pave the way for a new vote.

Resurrection of Anwar. A political ally of Anwar, Chief Minister Lim told me that, thanks to these “false” charges, the charismatic Anwar has become even more popular not only in his Penang district but also in the entire country. In contrast, the government of incumbent Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has been floundering because of internal squabbling with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Glowed Lim, “Our people want civil liberties and Anwar has become the symbol of our deepest aspirations. Jailing him with odious charges merely added luster to his popularity. Look at me, I was convicted of concocted sedition and imprisoned for three years. After I was released, I was handily elected chief minister of our state. Watch Anwar. The more the government maltreats him, the more our people want him. He will shortly be the prime minister of Malaysia.”

Days ago, Anwar himself boldly announced that he would topple Badawi by mid-September. If that timing happens, and we should know this week, Anwar would weigh heavily in our peace ambitions in Mindanao. A friend of former Presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, he knows the Philippines quite well. He comfortably lectures on the heroism of Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino.

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New POEA administrator. Early this year, I wrote several columns denouncing the shabby treatment of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). As a result, I was deluged with OFW mails from all over the world, narrating harrowing tales of incompetence, inefficiency and inattention of our government offices especially the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

To systematize their laments, I asked the OFWs to organize themselves and to document their suggestions on how to ease their pains. Which they did under the leadership of Dr. Carmelita Ballesteros, PhD, a teaching fellow at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. For some results, visit

At a private lunch in Malacañang, I submitted to President Macapagal-Arroyo a position paper collated by Dr. Ballesteros from her core group. Two months later, Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo called me to say that GMA decided to revitalize the POEA and asked me to recommend a new administrator. I initially hesitated but Mayor Pelayo convinced me that the President needed help to solve the OFWs’ laments. So, I suggested Jennifer Jardin Manalili.

Contrary to insidious rumors at the POEA, Manalili did not apply for the post. Neither did I volunteer her. She supervised the brilliant young lawyers who assisted me when I was chief justice. Like these attorneys, she is honor-bound to embrace the right thing, not the easy thing; to uphold principle and eschew convenience no matter the odds.

After I retired, these lawyers were recruited, thus: Manalili by Justice Conchita Carpio Morales; Millie Reyes by Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing; Sheryl Supapo-Sandigan by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr.; Emma Matammu by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Lot San Pablo by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Four others pursued graduate studies—Rommel Salvador (University of Toronto), Joel Gregorio (University College London), Cherry Bonoan (Columbia) and Anna Su (Harvard).

Prior to her Supreme Court stint, Manalili held key positions in the House of Representatives and the Executive Office in Malacañang. A dean’s lister at the University of the Philippines College of Law, she finished with honors her Master in Public Administration also at UP. She passed the bar with a high 86.75 rating.

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