Ka Fidel: A brutally frank peace negotiator
On the eve of the second round of formal talks in Norway in October 2016, the National Democratic Front (NDF) called for a press conference for an important announcement.
Longtime peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni has retired from the role and Fidel Agcaoili, his vice chair, would be taking over as chief negotiator.
“Let me tell you frankly that I do not relish this new role. I was content to be an ordinary member of the panel and, sometimes, be appointed as emissary to the [government of the republic of the Philippines,] to then presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos and now to President Rodrigo Duterte,” Agcaoili said in his opening statement the next day.
In what I think was an effort to convince himself, Ka Fidel quickly added that he will do his “best to accomplish the task that has fallen” on his shoulders. It was a commitment that he honored until he passed away on Thursday in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Ka Fidel was known for having a short fuse, which is evidenced by how fast his face could turn red. For us journalists covering the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF, a red-faced Ka Fidel was a sign to either steer clear of his way or a chance to get a good soundbite from him.
He was brutally frank, meticulous, sharp and full of wisdom. And a troubleshooter. These were the reasons why Ka Fidel was highly effective during difficult moments of the negotiations, and in the backchannel talks, which are done to fix issues that potentially lead to an impasse.
The panels were on a break and both parties retreated to their respective secretariat rooms. I was camping at the hallway hoping to get more information when a visibly irritated Ka Fidel went out for a cigarette. Personal barista
He asked me to go with him, but with a request (more of command) to get him a cup of coffee. A coffee noob, I went to the hotel’s self-service machine and just stared at the complicated piece of equipment. I went back and sheepishly confessed my ignorance. So he taught me how to use it to make his preferred serving. The menu buttons were in Norwegian so I tried to memorize the step-by-step process. I became his personal barista. I did not complain, though, because it was during those coffee breaks that I got to know him better, and learn more about the conflict and the peace process.
As a source, he was one of the most generous, taking time to sit down and explain the complex details and dynamics of the talks. He loved the “Humps and Bumps” Press Corps, our small group of journalists who closely followed the talks.
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