Good facilitator hard to replace

The passing away of HE Dato’ Tengku Ab’Ghafar bin Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process since April 2011 until his death on September 2, is truly unnerving and devastating.

The drawback posed by it is tremendous and a real challenge. Dato’ Tengku had been a multi-talented facilitator, a combination of experience, analytical mind, diplomatic skills, ability to blend and harmonize conflicting standpoints, as well as to use jokes at the precise moment to enliven tense situations. Despite belonging to the highest nobility in the Malay tradition, but he always remained humble and simple. Former government peace negotiator, Prof. Miriam Ferrer-Coronel, had this to say on him: “He was a vivid listener, though some things were lost in translation, he always grasped the essence.” 

It is very hard to replace a good facilitator who did not only have a long institutional memory of the process but had long lived with it through hard times. It was during his stint that the most difficult part of the negotiation took place and the most important, nay concluding agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed. Hard times and hard issues put together are truly hard to crack, but they were overcome.  Dato’ Tengku played the lead role.

Indeed, Dato’ Tengku’s role as facilitator is a success story. But unknown to many was how he dealt with the MILF that contributed to this success. There were times that he had urged the MILF to see the larger picture and agree to some important compromises, reminding them that one cannot get all what he or she wanted in a negotiation. Often the MILF listened to him, but not after serious moments of reflections. Grasping fully well the Solomonic wisdom in those prodding, which were for the sake of the peaceful and just settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao, the MILF acceded.

The Government of Malaysia, the third country facilitator, can always find a replacement. We are absolutely sure of this, because there are so many Malaysians who are as competent as the late facilitator. Let us not speak of those who already served as facilitators, some of whom are still around. Even new faces are not few either.

We hope the replacement is forthcoming! We hope that the GPH would also has the same feeling. The Parties know the indispensable role played by the facilitator in the peace process, in spite of the fact that after the signing of the CAB the Parties are already in implementation mode. Firstly, even if most of the meetings of the Panels are regularly held in the Philippines but when they sign a formal agreement, say the new Terms of Reference (TOR) for the Peace Implementing Panels, they will have to do it in Kuala Lumpur. The facilitator has to sign it, alongside the two panel chairs.  And second, like the peace panels, as well as the ceasefire committees, and many if not most of the mechanisms of the peace process, the third party facilitator will continue to stay until the Exit Agreement is signed when all the agreements of the Parties are implemented. This is the agreement of the Parties.

Dato’ Tengku might be out of our sight, but the memories of him as an honest peace broker, a man full of insights, a down-to-earth personality, a friend, and a brother in-faith and humanity for others stay with us. Inna lillahi wa-inna ilayhi rajiun (From Allah we come from and to Him we shall return).