09:49 PM September 15th, 2013

September 15th, 2013 09:49 PM

Apparently, when Vice President Jejomar Binay negotiated with his “college classmate” Nur Misuari last Friday, to try to end the fighting in Zamboanga City, he did so on his own behalf. That is to say, he did not represent President Aquino but acted as his own principal. How else explain the astonishing statement he made, after the ceasefire that he and Misuari agreed on failed to materialize?

“There was a good start. Both were for peaceful settlement. But the President did not accept the conditions [that Misuari set for a ceasefire].”

Let us look closely at Binay’s words. In the first place, his statement suggests that President Aquino was a third party, rather than the person Binay was representing. “Both were for peaceful settlement” is non-objectionable in itself, but his next sentence (“the President did not accept the conditions”) places the President of the Philippines outside the framework of discussion—as though Binay negotiated with Misuari without the President’s objectives or conditions in mind.

According to those in the know, one of Misuari’s conditions was safe passage for all his followers involved in the adventurist incursion in Zamboanga. “But I know the President,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said, when asked about the possibility of safe passage. “He would not like that.”

It is hard to avoid the conclusion: Either Binay and his communications team erred in crafting their message (the quote from Binay was the gist of a text blast over the weekend, sent by his apparent supporters), or the perceived frontrunner for the 2016 elections has started to deliberately distance himself from the President.

Second, Binay’s statement, by emphasizing the peaceful settlement he and Misuari had agreed on, suggests that President Aquino is not for peace because he rejected the proposed terms. Binay even prefaced his remarks with “It’s a pity”—signaling to all and sundry that he thought the President made the wrong decision.

The resolution to the crisis Misuari started, however, does not consist in a mere “peaceful settlement” that would have allowed Misuari’s men to walk away from the mayhem they started in Zamboanga.

It would have been different if Binay’s statement had emphasized the aspect of justice, of the long arm of the law reaching even the remotest barangay, and then said he was conveying Misuari’s conditions to the commander in chief. That would have reflected the decision-making process outlined in the Constitution. Instead, he told the world an agreement had been reached between the two college classmates, but—“It’s a pity”—the President did not approve.

We wish to make an important distinction. Binay did right in offering to talk to Misuari, the founder of the Moro National Liberation Front, and now the head of a minority faction. Since he had access to the rebel-turned-politician-turned-renegade, it was possible he could contribute to a resolution of the crisis.

As Gazmin recalled the sequence of events, the idea to call Misuari directly was Binay’s. “This started with the Vice President calling me up, asking me what if he talks to Misuari because he was his classmate and seatmate.” Binay told him: “What if we talk about a ceasefire?” Gazmin’s response: “Why not, if only to end this bloody confrontation?”

Where we must fault Binay is in his approach to the negotiation, and his conduct after the failure of the ceasefire agreement that was the result of that negotiation. In a word, he went solo. He agreed to the terms of a ceasefire without clearing them with the President, or aligning them with government objectives regarding the Zamboanga crisis. He even flew to Zamboanga on Saturday (the subject of considerable Cabinet-level consternation, because Mr. Aquino had not asked him to go there) and brought his son, the mayor of Makati, along.

When it became clear that there were substantial reasons why the proposed ceasefire could not take place, he then distanced himself from the President on whose Cabinet he serves, and from the government whose troops were fighting the rebel forces.

We suppose he saw himself as a man with the means to save the situation. Unfortunately, his intervention in the Zamboanga crisis only added to the trauma, and the fog, of war.

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