The appointments and the appointees’ acceptance, were announced today in the column “View from the Palace” by outgoing Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.
Bunye quoted Dureza, who is presently in Libya, as having said in his text message to President Arroyo: “I humbly accept this new task and I thank the President for the honor and privilege of serving her and the country as press secretary. I consider this as a progression of my work and commitment for peace and development, this time perhaps with a bigger, wider platform. I will give it my best shot. I hope I can fit in the big shoes Sec. Toting Bunye is leaving behind with distinction.”
Esperon, who will cut short his vacation, according to Bunye, has also accepted his new designation. Bunye quoted Esperon as saying, “I am awed, humbled by the big task. But the challenge is by itself the incentive and the inspiration. I’m ready, Sir.”
To reporters, Esperon sent this text message: “I thank PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo”) for the continuing trust and confidence. Am honored with the new position and for the opportunity to serve the country. I will do my best to be equal to the great task. God willing.”
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) whose peace talks with the Philippine government has remained stalled, declined to comment on the changes. “That is internal to the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines).
Datu Michael Mastura, member of the MILF peace panel, said, “the initial revamp is not after all an earthshaking decision in GMA’s Cabinet. The same pinballs in the bowling alley. It’s of momentous choice in proportion to the national crisis she is facing.”
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, secretary-general of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) said, “the Mindanao conflict is clearly a political problem, not a military one. Bringing the generals to the peace talks I hope will not simply extend the war from the battleground to the negotiating table.”
Guiamel Alim, executive director of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, asked: “Can Esperon give better advice to PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo than Jess (Dureza) re peace process? Whoever is there is immaterial. It is only PGMA’s political (will) that counts.”
Father Roberto Layson hopes that as a Mindanawon and as the new Press Secretary, Dureza “will bring to the doorsteps of Malacanang the issues of many Mindanawons, especially the Moro and Lumad minorities.”
”As for Esperon, I know that he was the one who drafted the ground rules for the ground commanders regarding the directive of GMA on the primacy of the peace process with the MILF. I hope he will continue to promote it as the new OPAPP Secretary.”
Lawyer Zen Malang said, “after GMA makes public her latest position on the peace process at Camp Aguinaldo, now she appoints an ex chief of staff as peace process ‘adviser.’ There’s a negative symbolism there that can’t be missed, particularly now that the peace process is in shambles.”
Abhoud Syed Lingga, Executive Director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS) in Cotabato City said Esperon’s assignment “might entrench the national security framework in government’s approach to the peace process, pushing the human security framework to the sideline. The humane approach that government has to adopt to address self-determination issue is human security.”
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Joel Virador said, “there is still no peace with Esperon as Peace Adviser. He is not fit for the job since his expertise is to launch war with those branded by the government as enemies of the state.”
On Dureza, Virador said, “he will be having difficulty defending an unpopular president. He cannot hide the crises his boss is facing now.”
Esperon’s appointment, said Jeppie Ramada, BAYAN Southern Mindanao secretary general, “only shows two points. First, that the government has no plan in forging a peace process with any revolutionary movement because what it has installed is not a peace negotiator but an all out war think tank. Second is that the government accommodates its allies even if it is bereft of any capability for the position offered to them.”
Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, secretary-general of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) said Esperon’s appointment “shows the low regard of the GMA government to truly address the peace issue.”
”It only strengthened the hawkish thrust of the government. It is like letting the big, bad wolf inside the house of the three little pigs!” Zarate said.
Former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, told MindaNews, “obviously, GMA does not want to save an already badly troubled peace process.”
“Considering Esperon’s last years in military service, I’m afraid the path ahead will be marred with even more fighting, divisions, deception, distrust, and deadly political games,” Deles said.
Deles took over the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process from retired general Eduardo Ermita. Dureza succeeded as PAPP after Deles’ resignation, along with other Cabinet members, following the “Hello Garci” scandal in July 2005, in what is now referred to as “Hyatt 10.”