Former House deputy speaker for Mindanao Gerry Salapuddin called Senator Aquilino Pimentel’s proposal to tap Filipino boxing champ Manny Pacquiao as peace negotiator amidst the renewed conflict in Basilan “a big joke” that will only make an already difficult situation worse.
In a press statement, Salapuddin said the proposal of Senator Pimentel to send Filipino boxing icon Pacquiao being designated Ambassador of Peace and Unity by Malacañang must have been proposed in jest, not in all seriousness, neither was it a well thought of recommendation.
“This proposal by Senator Pimentel is really quite a joke. While it is true that every boxing match of Pacquiao, even enemies sit together to cheer for him,” said Salapuddin, also former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebel commander based in Basilan turned politician.
Salapuddin defended the administration of President Gloria Arroyo, saying that she must not be faulted for it because the proposal was not coming from the Palace but from Senate Minorty Leader, who is an opposition senator.
“Personally, I don’t encourage sending Pacquiao to negotiate for a complex and intricate issue as the Moro issue. Most of all, I also fear for his safety. He is not just an international boxing icon, but also a Filipino pride who proudly raised the Philippine banner in the boxing ring.”
Salapuddin continued that most of all, Pacquiao is undeniably a billionaire now, and God forbids if he might be held hostage for ransom by unscrupulous armed elements.
He recalled that Vice President Noli de Castro and Actor Robin Padilla together with dozens of journalists were held hostage by Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. Likewise, he said even Major General Benjamin Dolorfino and top OPAPP officials were once held against their will in Sulu.
“Recently, the last of the International Committee of the Red Cross volunteer was held hostage and only released recently even if he belongs to a non-government charitable and humanitarian organization. There are many other unfortunate stories that we can learn from the past.”
Earlier, Senator Rodolfo Biazon questioned the competence of the boxing champ to handle an intricate and complex political subject as the Moro issue while Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago called the proposal as an act of desperation.
Even instant celebrity, mother of the Filipino boxing icon is simply not in favor of sending his son as a negotiator, Salapuddin said adding that just like the most prayerful Filipino President Corazon Aquino, Aling Dionisia Pacquiao instead calls on the nation to pray for guidance.
“As a Mindanaoan, I firmly believe that the key to the Mindanao problem is for the GRP and MILF and MNLF Panels to go to the negotiating table equipped with firmness and sincerity, prepared with sensible proposals and options, galvanized by the sole objective of formulating and achieving a comprehensive political settlement of the Moro issue.”
Since the MNLF and the MILF are both fighting for the same people and the same homeland, and since the present ARMM is the product of the GRP-MNLF FPA, it is only right that the MNLF must be consulted and made to participate in the peace process, according to Salapuddin.
Affected by recent violence and bloodshed in Basilan, where several people including soldiers and rebels were killed, the former lawmaker said that it is unfortunate that one after another incidents of bloody encounters in his province have always been the banner story these days.
“The right thing to do is for both the GRP and the United Moro Front, through their respective negotiating panels to notify the Orgnaization of Islamic Conference thru its Secretary-General to facilitate the resumption of the stalled talks,” Salapuddin suggested.
Since the Moro issue was a result of wrong colonial approach, Salapuddin said that it is likewise suggested that the United State and United Kingdom, be invited as co-facilitators and co-guarantors of the peace talks.”
He ended with the statement: “As we have experienced in the GRP-MNLF FPA, the economic component of the political settlement is indispensable. We need the political muscle and economic resources of the US and UK in achieving a comprehensive peace settlement of the Moro issue.”