The debate over Teresita Quintos-Deles and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer has risen in the charts, rivaling the scandals of show-biz celebrities and pork plunderers. Their rise in notoriety is so phenomenal, even feminists are shaking their heads.
To save space and breath, I’m not attaching their lengthy official titles to their names (presidential assistant on the peace process for Deles,and chairman of the government peace panel for Ferrer). When I mention them in tandem, I will henceforth refer to them as Deles-Ferrer.
At first, Deles-Ferrer were roundly criticized for defending the MILF and acting like spokesmen for the rebel group, an act which they repeated many times during the congressional hearings, and which provoked denunciation.
Second, Deles-Ferrer hit the ceiling for unpopularity when they had the gall to blame the Special Action force (SAF) for the bloody encounter in Mamasapano. They mistakenly claimed that the SAF should have coordinated with the MILF in its operation. Under the peace agreement between the MILF and the government, Philippine forces can pursue high-value targets in MILF enclaves.
Third, Deles-Ferrer have studiously avoided stating officially that Mamasapano is Philippine territory, as many legal experts have recommended. They have clung to the delusion that it is MILF territory.
Fourth, in the strangest charge of all, they have been tagged by critics as being victims of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological malady recognized the world over.
Fifth and finally, in a hard-hitting column yesterday in this paper, my colleague Bobi Tiglao charged Deles-Ferrer with lying to the nation on their claim that the MILF will give up their arms, under the decommissioning protocol signed in Kuala Lumpur just two days after the Mamasapano massacre.
When criticism reaches this level of attack, it’s a sure sign that Deles-Ferrer have much to answer for to the nation along with a queen-size public relations problem. Their only hope to keep their jobs is Aquino’s aversion to firing his cohorts and accomplices.
Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy for and have positive feelings for their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.
The syndrome is named after the robbery of Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden, wherein several bank employees were held hostage in a bank vault from August 23 to 28, 1973, while their captors negotiated with police. During this standoff, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point, and even defended their captors after they were freed.
Strictly speaking, applying the syndrome to Deles-Ferrer is incorrect, because the two were not held hostage by the MILF. They just spent lot of time with the MILF, in the course of negotiating and discussing issues and ideas with them. This was a form of immersion not usually seen in the work of our government peace negotiators.
Deles-Ferrer got immersed in talks with the MILF as far back as the time of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, under whom talks culminated in the ill-fated memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD). When Noynoy Aquino assumed the presidency in 2010, Deles was rewarded for her support (she was an original member of the infamous Hyatt 10) with reappointment as presidential peace adviser.
When Deles-Ferrer started negotiations with the MILF under the Aquino regime, their mission was clearly to represent the Philippine government. They were to protect and promote the interests of the Republic.
Their MILF counterparts had a comparable starting point – the interests and agenda of the separatist rebel front.
The progress of the negotiations charts the conversion of Deles-Ferrer to the MILF cause and their contraction of the Stockholm Syndrome, and the muting of the interests of our people in the Deles-Ferrer agenda.
In the resulting agreements, Deles-Ferrer conceded virtually every demand of the MILF, viz., the dissolution of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the revision of the Philippine Constitution to create a Moro substate, the sharing of natural resources in favor of Moros, the control of any future Moro government by the MILF.
By the time the peace deal — the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro — was signed in March 2014 and the creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state was officially proposed, the syndrome had fully taken hold. Throughout 2014, we will not find Deles-Ferrer in any discussion where they did not mouth “Bangsamoro.”
Who applied the label first?
I am not the first journalist to stick Stockholm Syndrome to Deles-Ferrer. Several media colleagues preceded me.
The Daily Tribune may have been the first media organization to suggest that Deles–Ferrer may be afflicted with the syndrome. In its editorial on January 28, 2015, it wrote: “The government peace negotiators, who seem to be afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome, are siding with the MILF in saying that the operation to take out Marwan should have been coordinated with the rebels.”
Former press secretary Hector Villanueva, in his Manila Bulletin column on February 6, took the same tack in discussing the Mamasapano crisis and the problematic Bangsamoro project.
He suggested that members of the government peace panel should be replaced “with new young blood with fresh ideas, initiative, deep knowledge of Mindanao, and [free of]the ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ ”
A great disservice to the nation
If I now discuss the matter today, it is to support the diagnosis and to make the point that Deles-Ferrer have done the nation a great disservice in providing wrong-headed advice to President Aquino.
The entire architecture of the Aquino peace plan in Mindanao bear their thumbprint. Aquino only provided the approving hand and authority.
What Aquino and Deles-Ferrer have begotten together is as hair-raising as “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Can this devilish handiwork be undone? Yes, and our people themselves as sovereign must undo this misguided policy and program.
This need not mean the resumption of hostilities between the government and the MILF, or the wiping out of all rebel groups in Mindanao, as has happened in Sri Lanka.
But it should mean a fresh effort for peace, involving all actors in the south and aimed at achieving broader objectives and results.
Bangsamoro will remain and must remain a valid point for discussion in any new negotiations, but the terms for agreement will surely be different. And always the Philippine Constitution must stand supreme.
All Muslims in Mindanao – indeed all the people of Mindanao – must be involved and consulted in the peace effort. So should our military and police who bear the burden of keeping the peace. And so should the rest of our people.
In the new talks, I submit that Deles-Ferrer should no longer represent the Philippine Republic.
Then will fears of Stockholm Syndrome dictating the course of events dissipate, and hopes for a long and lasting peace reign over Mindanao and Sulu.