Partners in peace

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2015 - 12:00am

“Galit ka na ba sa amin?” Are you mad at us already?

That was Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, greeting me at a dinner Tuesday night for Britain’s Princess Anne.

According to the Pulse Asia survey results released yesterday, 44 percent of Filipinos opposed the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, with only 21 percent for it and 36 percent undecided. The highest opposition, 62 percent, was registered in Mindanao, followed by 52 percent in Metro Manila. I don’t know if that translates into being mad at the government peace panel, but it’s certainly not a lot of public support for the BBL.

The dinner for 24 people was held at the official residence of British Ambassador Asif Ahmad, just hours after the Senate released its report on the Jan. 25 commando raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that has derailed the peace process.

Britain is heavily invested in this process; it is a Philippine partner in peace. The Northern Ireland experience has served as inspiration for commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Princess Anne, however, visited the Philippines mainly for her advocacies, particularly in supporting women as entrepreneurs and UK assistance in disaster areas. She visited Ormoc, Leyte the other day, to talk to beneficiaries of Save the Children. She told us she didn’t want to linger and get in the way of the rebuilding effort. Anne also visited the microfinance trust Tulay sa Pag-unlad Inc., a partner of Opportunity International UK where she is a patron.

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Britain’s princess royal, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, was refreshingly informal. She shook hands and chatted with everyone, and addressing her as “your royal highness” was optional for non-Brits.

Her arrival at the Forbes Park residence was announced by someone at the main entrance but that was as far as the formalities went. She was with a lady-in-waiting and retired Navy Captain Nick Wright who spent time in the Philippines and is now her private secretary. No photos were taken except by the embassy photographer.

Anne had arrived from the UK Monday night without fanfare, which is how she prefers to move around, according to her aide. She promotes the work of some 320 non-government organizations where she is president or a patron.

Nick Wright said the princess royal goes overseas about eight times a year, with about three of the places recommended by the Foreign Office.

British ambassadors are formally appointed by the queen and the crown servants serve the monarch rather than the government. The diplomats must make a case for a foreign visit by a member of the royal family.

“I was fortunate that my bid was accepted,” Ambassador Ahmad informed me. “This was for a number of reasons: the growing importance of our links to the Philippines as we have adopted a prioritized approach to the country; the role the UK has been able to play in helping Filipinos in times of natural disasters (HRH is closely associated with a number of civil society organizations); the interest she has in women as entrepreneurs; her role as an Olympic competitor and official.”

The princess royal gave me a briefer explanation: she had not visited the Philippines since March 1999.

Considering the presence of royalty from the land of the stiff upper lip, dinner was a relaxed affair. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of course addressed the princess royal formally, but I didn’t hear a lot of “your highness” at the dinner.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima (these days better known as the other Purisima) used the honorific only once in what was mainly a casual post-dinner conversation about microfinancing for the poor and the conditional cash transfer.

The princess seems skeptical about sea levels rising as a result of climate change, but she was interested in the projects for the poor. Purisima also mentioned the administration’s public-private partnership program, which was inspired by the British model.

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Outside Anne’s earshot, the hot topic was of course the Senate and police reports on Mamasapano.

It’s understandable that the UK, like the government and MILF peace panels, would want this administration’s peace initiative to stay on track, preferably with Mamasapano treated as a separate issue. I don’t see how this can happen; the slaughter of police commandos by the MILF and its duplicity in the nature of its ties with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and fugitive terrorists raise legitimate questions about its sincerity and capability to control its members.

The Americans, who were burned in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the MILF during the Arroyo administration, seem to have learned their lesson and are taking a prudent approach this time. US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, another guest at the dinner, told me his government has no stand on the BBL. But he said Washington is prepared to provide assistance to the Bangsamoro if it is created, and will support the pursuit of peace.

It’s safe to presume that whoever takes over as president next year will want to continue pursuing peace. For now, however, every day seems to hold bad news for the peace process. That bad news is unavoidably linked to the massacre in Mamasapano on Jan. 25.

In this country, a sure sign that something is in serious trouble is when it becomes the butt of jokes.

Among the dinner guests were Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang and his predecessor Emmanuel Bautista. Both are classmates of suspended police Director General Alan Purisima in the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1981.

Being “mistahs,” the two could poke fun at their beleaguered classmate, who quit as chief of the Philippine National Police after the Mamasapano raid.

Purisima has lost a lot of weight, the two officers told me, because he can no longer enjoy eating in a restaurant. Nasty waiters always ask him, “Sir, what’s your order?” And Purisima always loses his appetite and protests: “Advice only, not order!”




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