What Eduardo Ermita learned as a peace negotiator

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 29 2017 02:01 AM

Former Palace executive secretary Eduardo Ermita hands out a copy of his book "Soldier Peacemaker" during its launch in Camp Aguinaldo, Thursday. RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Former Palace executive secretary Eduardo Ermita on Thursday emphasized the need for sincerity from government and rebel groups so that decades-old peace negotiations can end successfully.

“So much depends on the sincerity of purpose of those involved. and it behooves them to better understand and carefully evaluate and analyze the positions of each one in order to craft the proper approach in the conduct of negotiations,” Ermita said during the launch of his book, “Soldier Peacemaker”, in Camp Aguinaldo.

President Rodrigo Duterte has terminated talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) after the New People's Army allegedly continued to attack state forces, including his presidential convoy.

Peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on the other hand, is in the hands of Congress, which has yet to tackle the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that would greenlight the 2014 peace agreement signed by the Aquino administration.

Ermita was last seen in public as executive secretary and presidential spokesperson to then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But before that, Ermita wore two hats that don’t always seem to compliment each other: he was a soldier and then a peacemaker.

Which is why it was no surprise that those two roles, became the title of his memoirs.

Through his book, the retired lieutenant general hopes that his recollections of his roles as a military official, public administrator, legislator and Cabinet official can provide insights to the coming generations.

As a military assistant to former defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Ermita joined the mission to Triplo, Libya which resulted in the Tripoli Agreement, the ceasefire between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front, and the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 

Later as a lawmaker, he became part of the National Unification Commission and became one of the negotiators who got the final peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed in 1996. Ermita was also one of the back-channel negotiators with the MNLF that led to the formal peace negotiations.

Ermita was also be tapped by Arroyo to help jumpstart the peace process with the MILF in 2003, which led to a ceasefire agreement with that secessionist group.

It was against the backdrop of this vast experience with the peace processes in the country that Ermita shared his ideas. 

Ermita said one intricacy is the “degree of control that the leadership of the forces fighting the government possesses over their fighters on the ground.”

He said there are indications that the NDFP and the Communist Party of the Philippines do not fully control their "fighters on the ground."

The MILF, meanwhile, is a slightly different story. While it depends on Congress’ action on the BBL, the question of what to make of other militant Muslim groups remains.

"As long as their motivations for causing trouble are not properly met or neutralized, the potential for causing the condition of 'unpeace' is ever present," he said.

Ermita reminded his audience that the cost of war is the country’s progress, a point echoed by his one-time boss: former President Fidel Ramos, who he served as a peace negotiator and lawmaker.

Ramos was among the guests during Ermita’s book launch. He said working on a lasting peace in the country will have to be a continuing effort across generations of Filipinos. 

“This whole thing must be taken in the context of the future of the other Filipinos. In other words EDSA, the MNLF peace process that Ed described, the peace process ongoing now and the peace process that will still be for the future, are all part of our unfinished revolution. Meaning, you don’t just do a regime change in 4 days care of EDSA and expect a revolution to happen no that was just regime change but the other Filipinos must do your part in making our revolution succeed," he said.

Other guests at the book launch were former House Speakers Jose de Venecia and Sonny Belmonte, Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Perez, former Executive Secretary Renato de Villa, and former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.

Arroyo Cabinet members Arthur Yap, Peter Favila, Agnes Devanadera, and Ignacio Bunye and other government officials that served in the Ramos and Arroyo cabinets were also present.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also joined the book launch.