The Philippines and Malaysia have agreed on a new facilitator in the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the latter reaffirms the role it has played in the peace process for the past 16 years.
Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid, 71, is the third Malaysian to act as facilitator in the talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF. He replaces Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mohamed who passed away on Sept. 2, 2016. Like the late Tengku, Zakaria is the choice of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.
The first facilitator was Datuk Othman Abd Razak, an appointee of former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.
Zakaria’s appointment came after the Philippines reconsidered its position on the need for a third-party facilitator.
In a letter to the Malaysian Secretariat of the GPH-MILF Peace Process dated January 4, GPH panel implementing chairperson Irene Santiago and her MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal reaffirmed the continued participation of Malaysia as third country facilitator.
The government had earlier informed Malaysia it was rethinking that role, since the peace process is already in the implementing stage.
In November, hours before the scheduled bilateral meeting of Najib and President Rodrigo Duterte in Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines’ National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director General Alex Monteagudo informed the Malaysian side that the Philippine government would no longer accept the Malaysian facilitator but wanted the Malaysian International Monitoring Team (IMT) to continue, a source said.
The Malaysian side sought clarification from Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and was told that the Philippines wanted a different label to the role that Malaysia is playing in the peace process because “facilitator” would connote an ongoing negotiation when they are actually already implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
Zakaria is the chairman of Landmarks Berhad, an investment holding company that expanded its business to the hospitality industry and property development. He served the Malaysian government for 33 years. The last position he held was as director general of the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department, a strategic office that coordinates both the foreign and defense ministries, and provides policy advise to the Prime Minister on matters of international and domestic concern.
Malaysia’s role as broker started in 2001.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)