Surigaonon Diplomat is new GRP chief peace negotiator

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis has accepted the post of Chief Negotiator for the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Seguis, a career diplomat who was called from retirement by President Gloria Macapgal-Arroyo, vowed to do his “best to advance the cause of peace in Mindanao.”

He comes from Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte in Eastern Mindanao, and replaces Assistant Secretary Rodolfo Garcia. Garcia’s team was dissolved in August just before the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD, which he steered through, was declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court. Seguis said that in his concurrent positions at the DFA and the GRP peace panel, he would be able to harness his diplomatic experience as a negotiator.

The added appointment by President Arroyo signals GRP’s intent to resume scuttled peace talks with the MILF but Seguis pointed out that “the timeline is not set yet, though it’s not far behind.”

“This is a tremendous challenge and opportunity which I humbly accept knowing fully well the difficult road that lies ahead. We will do our work quietly, but diligently because in any negotiation it is just as important to listen and understand the views of the other side,” the newly-appointed Chief Negotiator said.

Seguis said that President Arroyo has begun the first steps for resumption of talks by considering the composition of the panel of negotiators, which he will head. The names of his four-co members are not yet known, Seguis said.

Asked if his being a working diplomat does not go against the grain of the negotiations, Seguis said, “we’re all working for peace, that’s most important.”
But he added he will still seek some comments from Malacañang regarding his appointment.

Seguis retired in 2004 but was immediately reappointed DFA Undersecretary for Special Concerns.

Known for his coolness in crisis situations, he led the crisis team to Iraq on two separate occasions to negotiate for the eventual safe release of Filipino workers Angelo dela Cruz of Pampanga and Davao native Roberto Tarongoy. The captives face near-certain death in the hands of an Al-Qaeda-linked group as well as put the very life of Seguis on line as well.

On July 19, 2005, Seguis received a Presidential Citation “for his steadfast and able leadership of Team Iraq” which resulted in the successful release of the Filipino hostages.

He also received the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu (Gold Distinction) on October 26, 2006 which is the highest presidential award bestowed to government officials and employees.

Inside the DFA, the soft-spoken Seguis is often tapped to represent the country in vital diplomatic missions and conferences in the Middle East-including being a regular member of the guest Philippine delegation to the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Islamic Summits from 1996 to 2008.

He also represented the Philippines in various United Nations (UN) and Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) high-level meetings. He is the recipient of many awards and citations from DFA, including the “Distinguished Service Award” conferred by then DFA Secretary Domingo L. Siazon Jr.

The low-key Seguis also served as Philippine Ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor ( 2002 – 2003); Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Yemen (1999-2002); Iraq and Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1992 to 1996); Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli (1988-1991) and in various capacities in the Philippine Embassies in Rome, Bangkok, Cairo, Tehran and the United States.

At the DFA, he served as Assistant Minister for Fiscal Management (1986-1987) and Assistant Secretary for Middle East and Africa (1996-1999).
Seguis is also concurrently Chairman of the Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat of the DFA.

He passed the Foreign Service Officers (FSO) Examinations in December 1973.
He is a graduate of the University of the East and attended post-graduate studies at the American University in Cairo and the Ateneo de Manila Graduate School of Business. (By Gloria Jane Baylon/PNA)

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