[PHOTO AT LEFT - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is welcomed by President Arroyo at the Bahay Pangarap-PSG compound in Malacañang Park yesterday. WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, MARCH 25, 2009 (STAR) Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair isn’t going to be a special adviser of the Philippine government on the peace process in Mindanao.

But he does have a message to the nation: just keep the peace process going.

“Never give up,” Blair told The STAR in an exclusive interview. “The alternative to the peace process is conflict.”

Over lunch at Malacañang yesterday, President Arroyo sought Blair’s advice on bringing peace to Mindanao after three decades of separatist bloodshed.

Blair is credited with bringing peace to Northern Ireland and is now envoy to the Middle East for the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

“The President is confident Tony Blair, with all his experience, can contribute a lot to resolving our peace and order problems in Mindanao,” deputy presidential spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo told reporters.

But there was neither an invitation from Malacañang nor an offer from Blair to serve as the government’s adviser on the peace process, though he said he was willing to help.

In a speech at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza on “The Leader as Principled Negotiator,” Blair told his audience that “you don’t always succeed in bringing peace,” and both sides must be prepared to make compromises.

“What is forgivable is to fail. What is unforgivable is not to try,” he said. “What you must never do is give up… never let people think that your determination to bring peace is less than the determination of those who want to continue the conflict.”

Mrs. Arroyo has given herself until 2010, when her six-year term in office expires, to bring peace to Mindanao, where more than 120,000 people have been killed since 1978.

The 12,000-strong MILF signed a ceasefire in 2003, paving the way for formal negotiations with the government.

But the talks were suspended last August when the MILF launched deadly attacks across several mostly Christian towns and provinces in Mindanao after the furor over the MOA-AD,

In a related development, Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura also urged an immediate resumption of talks with the MILF as he announced the launch of grant contracts worth over half a million dollars for projects in Mindanao.

Japan is the Philippines’ largest aid donor and has poured over $1 million since 2006 in Mindanao

Tokyo “strongly hopes that peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the MILF will be resumed immediately,” Katsura said in a statement.

Nearly 300 people were killed in the latest fighting in Mindanao, including a large number of civilians, while more than 600,000 were displaced. More than 100,000 are still in evacuation camps, and sporadic clashes continue.

Greater challenge

Speaking at a forum at the Ateneo de Manila University, Blair stressed the need for greater global cooperation as the crises gripping the world have become more grave and challenging.

“None of these global challenges can be met by a single nation alone,” he said, noting that even the United States, “with all its power, cannot handle the problems alone.”

He cited the financial crisis that hit the US and which affected other nations. Blair said the challenge would be how to deal with such a global problem vis-à-vis national interest.

Blair said it would be a choice between opening up more and allowing freer flow of people and goods and becoming protectionist, particularly in the area of immigration.

Achieving sustainable energy that is environment-friendly is also a major challenge, Blair noted.

He said the Philippines, composed of islands, should develop its own sources of energy, while new technology and other measures must be adopted by nations to protect the environment.

Blair also said governments must learn to deal with two elements in Islam – one that is open to working with the West and the other that is not and would rather be left alone.

He said it would be best to “partner with the modernizing and moderate element” to achieve peace and development in the Middle East.

“We need strong action,” Blair said, noting that governments could not solve the problem, “unless we solve it together.”

Blair emphasized that solutions to global problems should be based on fairness, equality and justice.


Sen. Manuel Villar said Blair is free to offer his help in the peace process but that the administration should also exercise caution in soliciting foreign help.

“He can be of help. There is nothing wrong if he wants to help. But as far as I am concerned, anybody who wants to help in the peace process can do,” Villar said.

“In my opinion not everyone who comes here should automatically be made an adviser,” Villar said in Filipino at a press conference.

“Choosing a peace adviser is a serious matter,” he said.

Villar also said Britain has more problems, especially in economy, that need Blair’s attention even more.

Sen. Loren Legarda, meanwhile, welcomed the administration’s initiative to invite Blair and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to serve as advisers in the peace negotiations.

“What we need is a new perspective on the war between brothers,” Legarda said.

She said the Muslim rebellion has “gone on far too long, draining our treasury and the blood of our young men and women on both sides, not to mention the civilian casualties and the billions of pesos in damage caused by the conflict.”

“We must do everything in our power to end these destructive hostilities in the southern Philippines,” Legarda said.

Interfaith summit

Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr., meanwhile, is urging Blair to organize a global inter-faith summit.

“On the occasion of your Manila visit, I felt that it (summit) should be a joint British-American initiative, since the British Commonwealth includes almost all the nations that gave birth to great religions, great civilizations and cultures in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and which are also represented in significant numbers in the United Kingdom,” De Venecia told Blair in a letter.

He cited the “pre-eminence and respect” the former prime minister enjoys and that his religious commitment “would help provide the leadership and impetus for this initiative.”

De Venecia said a much smaller inter-faith summit could be held in Manila or Mindanao “to address the peace process, while drawing on the high points of the successful Northern Ireland model, which you helped craft.”

He reminded Blair that they had a brief chat at a global conference in Madrid on July 16, 2008, which was sponsored by Saudi King Abdullah and King Carlos of Spain.

At the conference, he said he and Blair proposed the creation of a United Nations Inter-faith Council. With Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz

Blair needs no official invitation as peace adviser - Palace By Paolo Romero Updated March 25, 2009 12:00 AM

STO. TOMAS, Pangasinan, Philippines – Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already been advising the government on how to boost the peace process in Mindanao, Malacañang said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said this is the reason why the government does not need to extend a formal invitation for him to help revive the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“President Arroyo and Mr. Blair are friends, that’s how world leaders are, even before, they have been already exchanging notes on how to solve the secessionist movement (in Mindanao),” he said.

Remonde said it was not as if Malacañang was “desperately seeking” Blair on the matter.

“So even at that time, during their talks, Prime Minister Blair was already saying that if he is in a position to help, he will help,” he said.

Remonde said Blair’s visit to Manila this week was a good opportunity for him to reiterate the offer to Mrs. Arroyo when they met in Malacañang on Monday.

“Of course, we welcome whatever help he can extend in terms of advice and experience,” he said.

Meanwhile, Blair said on Monday he recognizes the “shift” of power from the West to the East when US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham-Clinton picked Asia for her first official trip abroad.

Generations of senior U.S. officials went to Britain for their first official trips as a legacy of the centrality of Europe.

Clinton’s inaugural trip last month signaled that Asia occupies a prominent place in the new US administration’s foreign policy and the commitment of President Barack Obama for closer economic and diplomatic relations with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China.

Clinton also met with President Arroyo in Washington before her trip to Asia.

“It’s an indication of strategic relations,” Blair told reporters.

“I personally saw this as one of the most important things when I talked about it with the new administration.

“And my view then and now is the American relationship with China is one major part.”

Blair also recognized China’s important participation in resolving issues on economy and climate change.

“And so it is good Secretary Clinton went there and if you look at the world economy, climate change, environment and the issue of scarcity of resources in the world, none of these can be dealt with without China’s response to the resolution,” he said.

“I’m a strong believer of a strong relation not just between America and China but I would say Europe and China, too. The European relationship with China is also important.

“And the power of the East is shifting fast and we in the West must understand it. As I was saying in my speech, there are great opportunities for countries like the Philippines.”

2 senators welcomeBlair’s help

Senators Francis Escudero and Francis Pangilinan welcomed yesterday proposals for Blair to help in the peace process in Mindanao.

“Let us not reject offers of help, Escudero said.

“But let us get a Filipino solution to a Filipino problem.”

Pangilinan said it was high time the government should try “new methods and approaches to make peace happen.”

“We need to think out of the box and if this offer to help, given his (Blair’s) experience in dealing with dissidents back home (in the United Kingdom), then maybe we should tap his experience,” he said. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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