Bangsamoro law support in Congress suffers setback
MANILA, Philippines–Support for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress has been shaken in the wake of the death of 44 elite policemen in a clash with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Sunday in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The MILF counted 64 policemen killed.
The BBL would have fulfilled the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamaro signed by the government and the MILF, aimed at ending the group’s decades-old fight for secession in Mindanao.
At least two senators, Alan Peter Cayetano and JV Ejercito, have withdrawn their coauthorship of the bill that would create the Bangsamoro region, with Cayetano saying the incident could sound the death knell for the proposed law.
With this, the bill now has the support of less than half of the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, several lawmakers are reconsidering their support for the bill in the 75-member ad hoc House committee on the BBL.
“It will be harder to pass, but we are still trying and hopeful,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said in a text message.
But Catholic bishops, along with other groups, remained firm in their support for the peace talks, while decrying the “act of violence against human life,” referring to the death of the policemen.
“While the CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines) vehemently condemns this act of violence against human life no matter what the avowed purpose of such violence may be, we cannot side with those who call for the discontinuance of peace talks,” the CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said in a statement.
“If anything, the sad incident underscores the necessity and the urgency of arriving at a solution that is not rushed but that is inclusive, principled and just to all,” he said.
Villegas appealed to all sectors, groups and political movements of the Bangsamoro to come together in dialogue toward a consensus on the BBL, underlining the importance of communication in the peace process.
Villegas, in a post on the CBCP website, said justice for the Bangsamoro meant the recognition of their centuries-old aspiration for self-determination, their right to chart their own destiny in dignity and freedom.
The Senate is divided on whether the killing of elite policemen in the clash should stop the approval of the BBL.
In his letter withdrawing support for the proposed BBL, Cayetano said, “May it not be said that it was this administration, nor this Congress that killed the Bangsamoro Basic Law but it is the MILF and its actions during and after this event which showed their lack of commitment to peace, development and the rule of law.”
Call for restraint
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has suspended hearings on the bill because of the carnage.
But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the violent clash, which must be condemned, should not be used as an excuse to stop the peace talks between the government and the Moro rebels.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III called for a restraint of emotions when making the next move following the killings.
Senators Grace Poe and Jinggoy Estrada both want a Senate hearing on the clash between the police and Moro rebels.
But for Cayetano, there would be no point in approving the draft BBL unless the MILF would show its sincerity in bringing about justice for the killing of elite police forces in Maguindanao.
The MILF should clean up its own ranks and go after the BIFF, he said. He added that he could not accept that the peace deal with the MILF would continue under the present situation.
Cayetano said the claim that the killings happened because of a failure to coordinate with the MILF in a particular area was a reason not to give the group more power.
The MILF must show that it is negotiating in good faith, and if not, there is no point in continuing the peace negotiations, he said.
Sen. Ralph Recto said the killings were hampering the peace process. To “reboot,” the MILF must kick out terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, and his local associate Basit Usman.
Ejercito said he was contemplating on whether the Bangsamoro bill would really address the long-standing problems of Mindanao.
Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said the decision of the Senate to suspend hearings on the BBL was counterproductive as it also suspended the establishment of peace in the region.
“Once the approval of the peace process is delayed, the implementation of the agreement will also be delayed and thus causing delays on the establishment of peace in Mindanao,” Jaafar said on the phone.
Jaafar said Cayetano’s withdrawal as author of the proposed law appeared to have been based mostly on emotions.
Jaafar urged politicians not to capitalize on the incident. “I am not talking about any particular persons but maybe there are political leaders who wanted to pursue higher positions and would use the peace process for their political ambitions.”
Jaafar said an impartial investigation should be immediately done to clarify the issues and to avoid speculations that would disrupt the talks.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Party, expressed support for the creation of a joint fact-finding body to probe the incident.
Cool heads first
Sarmiento said all stakeholders should “cool their heads first” before making any decision in relation to the BBL.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the ad hoc House committee on the BBL, said the bloody encounter had upset the timetable for the BBL, as his committee was prompted to suspend deliberations on four points, including national security.
Rodriguez said the committee had asked the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines to submit a full report on the incident by Feb. 2 to determine the culpability of the parties involved.
Until then, he said the schedule of the BBL deliberations was all tentative, and would depend on the committee’s appreciation of the investigation report.
Rodriguez said it was important to know the degree of the MILF’s involvement with the two wanted terrorists.
In a press forum, ACT-CIS Rep. Samuel Pagdilao, a former police official, said it was obvious that the MILF was “protecting and coddling” the two terrorists.
In a statement, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, a member of the ad hoc panel, cited concerns that the MILF leadership was not in full control of its armed followers on the ground.
“I cannot predict what will happen on Feb. 2 when we receive the full report from the PNP and the AFP. The sentiment of the House might change,” he said.
In Cotabato City, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman said Mindanaoans should “not allow the shocking, violent incident between police and elements of the MILF on Sunday to derail the gains of efforts to bring peace in Mindanao.”
He said while the loss of lives was “unfortunate and heartbreaking,” the situation could be best addressed and resolved with the rule of sobriety rather than allowing “biting emotions and anger” to prevail.
North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza said she and other officials fully supported the peace initiatives with the MILF and wished that “our troops who maintain the law and order in this civilized society should be respected and not killed.”
Canada for peace process
Despite the deadly clash, Canada continues to support the peace process in Mindanao.
“Despite the gravity and depth of what’s happened, we do believe in the peace process. We do believe in the aspirations of the country and the people in the Bangsamoro region to have a better life and we hope this won’t derail that process and allow it to go forward,” Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder quoted a statement of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
Canada has a “special interest in the Bangsamoro process” as it had recommended to the Philippine government the police structure for the new Bangsamoro, Reeder said.–Reports from Tina G. Santos Christine O. Avendaño in Manila; and Jeoffrey Maitem, Williamor Magbanua, Allan Nawal, Germelina Lacorte, Karlos Manlupig and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao