In 2001 when I was head of the Government Negotiating Panel in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the initial year of President Gloria Arroyo, we flew to Libya. I was with Vice President Teofisto Guingona and Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Malacanang executive secretary. Upon our arrival, we were first welcomed and entertained by the “favorite son” of the Libyan president named AL SALAM.
AIR-CON TENT — It was in his desert tent in SIRTE, where we met Libyan strongman MOAMMAR KHADAFI. Joining us was ABS-CBN’S Ces Drilon who was there to cover the event. We boarded an antic-looking plane in Tripoli, capital of Libya that flew us all the way through the desert below with so much noise, to a place called SIRTE, in the middle of the desert. We landed on an airstrip amidst a cloud of dust and sand. We were met by vehicles that ferried us to a big air-conditioned tent where MOAMMAR KHADAFI was waiting. The MILF team was already there ahead of us. I spotted some container vans parked nearby and several camels roaming around his tent. I was told that those camels were his favorite pets that would be transported in vans wherever he would go.
MAKING AMENDS — It was during that meeting where I personally heard the Libyan President admonishing the MILF to work for peace with the Philippine government. I recall he was saying ( through an interpreter) that he was making amends to the Filipino people because initially, he thought that Muslims were being hunted down , discriminated against and even massacred by Filipinos. That was the reason why Libya, according to him, supported the Islamists-Muslims for sometime even providing resources in fighting the Philippine government. It was only later when he knew and realized that the stories that had reached him were not true.
SECOND VISIT — My next visit to Tripoli, Libya was with President Arroyo who called on the Libyan President to express appreciation of the Filipino people for Libya’s peace efforts. We were feted like royalties during that visit.
CHARMED — On our way to the Tripoli airport enroute back to the Philippines, I could not forget the sudden diversion of our convoy. We headed instead to a tent in Tripoli, where President Khadafi was waiting. There he conversed again with President Arroyo, evidently charmed by her. I remember when President Marcos was Philippine President, he sent the First Lady Imelda who also charmed the Libyan leader. That “Imeldific” visit eventually resulted in the signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement that became the basic foundation of the subsequent peace negotiations with the MNLF and the Bangsamoro people.
During that meeting with President Arroyo and the tent visit on Khadafi on our way to the airport, I heard her ask: “Your Highness, where are your camels?” I recall previously informing her about his pet camels when I returned home after my earlier first visit. Lo and behold, camels were immediately brought to the site and seen just outside the tent entrance.
CAMEL’S MILK — Then to our surprise, we were served chilled fresh milk from camels. I totally consumed the whole glass as I was so thirsty . However, I noticed President Arroyo only took a complimentary sip.
Whew! That whole trip back to Manila brought me to the plane restroom every few minutes due to a bad stomach. My fault! Never again, I vowed!
Many years later, KHADAFI was arrested right there in his hometown SIRTE where he made his last stand against the forces that ousted his regime. He hid in an underground cellar under his tent but was later found. He was mercilessly executed!