Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - Negotiators at the Southern Philippines peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday were overcome with emotion upon realising they had finally reached an agreement.
An official present at the talks said some of the delegates representing the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) refused to believe they were nearing a deal even at the eleventh hour.
When an accord was reached, a number of those present held back tears of relief and happiness, said the official in relating the atmosphere during the critical hours before the agreement was reached.
A peek behind the scenes showed the importance of an agreement reached in a negotiation process which sometimes seemed too slow and careful.
As one of the many reporters who have covered the talks over the past few years, I often had little to rely on when trying to gather information on the latest round of talks that took place in Kuala Lumpur every few months.
In desperation, some of us would stake out hotels where the talks were rumoured to be held, hoping to catch the negotiators.
When we did, they would have little to say and would at best give vague and unexciting statements.
On hindsight, this careful, low-key approach, though frustrating to some, was the right one, especially as the talks entered the last lap.
Slightly larger in size than Sabah with a population of over 21 million, Mindanao has been the site of a rebel uprising that has killed over 100,000 in the past four decades.
Efforts to negotiate peace have faced numerous legal or political hurdles in the Philippines which have threatened to derail talks in the past. This is why Saturday's accord in Kuala Lumpur, while significant, must be tempered with the right amount of caution.
Many risks remain ahead as both sides now work to forge agreements on tough issues like power and wealth sharing in the region.
Malaysia has also rightly preferred a quiet involvement in the process. As a neighbour and Asean partner, we have much to gain in a lasting peace settlement in the Southern Philippines located just north of Sabah.
Malaysia has helped to facilitate the talks since 2001. For years, a highly experienced team of bureaucrats have been working diligently behind the scenes with the two parties as well as bodies such as the International Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Much of the work done will remain largely unknown, and some are puzzled by the reluctance by many in the peace effort to bask in the limelight now that a lasting settlement seems so close.
Looking back, I think I understand why. Sometimes, a low-key, slow and steady approach is better to get things done.