For the past days, the lines are abuzz and speculations are high on the agreement or non-agreement between PNoy and MILF Supremo, Murad Ibrahim, al hajj.

No doubt, the tête-à-tête meeting between the two is a major and daring feat in building peace in Southern Philippines. Post SONA, many people that follow the peace process have been disheartened by the silence of the President about it.

Suddenly, the peace process is back again in the President’s radar screen. This time around, the faces of the peace process are no longer the faces of the two peace panel chairs but of the PRINCIPALS themselves.

The event is mind-boggling, something akin to the historic meeting of President Cory Aquino and MNLF Chair Nur Misuari in 1987. That historic meeting was much objected by diplomats, the military establishment and legal ‘experts’ for the simple reason that it defied protocol and convention.

The issue is the fact that peace making does NOT follow any protocol and convention. There is no protocol or convention in peace making. What is important is the courage to break new ground for peace.

The president’s meeting with MILF Chair Murad Ibrahim is, no doubt, a very brave move to break new ground for peace. That it has taken place at a time when people’s trust in the peace process is diminishing is in itself incredible.

Peace making is not simply about politics and economics. In fact, it is first and foremost about TRUST. And when we speak of trust it refers to actual relationships of people behind government, fronts and institutions. While governments and fronts play very important roles, there is NO substitute to human factors that are crucial in building confidence between and among peoples involved in the peace process.

President Noynoy is the human face of the Philippine government as Chairman Murad is the face of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The face-to-face meeting between the two leaders sends a different vibration and special aura that are NOT measurable in terms of legalese of ‘diplomatese’ nor in terms of weight and numbers. It is the question of feeling and sympathy… a sort of disclosure where the protagonists, through that tête-à-tête meeting, feel and know that ‘they can trust each other’.

The move reminds me (perhaps NOT in equal measure) of the unilateral decision of the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalem in 1977. President Sadat defied all protocol and convention including the popular sentiment in the whole Islamic and Arabic world to make peace with Israel. It was a visit that paved the way for the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accord.

In similar vein, the historic meeting between PNoy and Chairman Murad is, indeed, a bold action. This reminds us, time and again, that peace making requires bold actions and for this reason peace making is never the vocation of diplomats and legal ‘experts’. The former thinks about protocol and convention and the latter believes in the letter of the law.

If there is something that the meeting has engendered, it is the trust between the two principals. And with the two talking as friends and lovers of peace, we can dream again of possibility for peace.

With a tête-à-tête meeting the two protagonists get to know the real person on the other side of the table (often demonized in many and varied ways). Neither President Noynoy nor Chairman Murad is the devil incarnate. What you have are two persons in search for the elusive peace in Southern Philippines.

The goodwill engendered by the historic meeting is the much-needed element, at the moment, in the peace process. While the President is dead serious in reforming the ARMM, the gesture is, at times, read as undermining the peace process.

With that meeting, the President gets to know the real face behind the label MILF. Chairman Murad is NO fanatic and definitely he is NO terrorist.

The task ahead is to seize the moment and continue to build trust and confidence among the stakeholders both in Mindanao and in the central government. In the final analysis, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the peace that we seek is not peace of one party at the expense of anyone but lasting peace for all!

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